Special symposium: fixation and tissue processing models

Biotech Histochem. 2009 Oct;84(5):185-93. doi: 10.3109/10520290903039052.


Abstract Fixation and processing of tissue to paraffin blocks permit thin (4-5 microm) sections of tissues to be cut. Tissues and their subcellular components and surrounding stroma are visualized by cutting thin sections and staining them histochemically or immunohistochemically and viewing the sections using a bright field microscope. During the last century, anatomists and pathologists have used fixation with 10% neutral buffered formalin (10% NBF) as the fixative of choice. Also, both human and veterinary pathologists have trained to use fixation with 10% NBF, so these professionals are reluctant to change the familiar microscopic appearance of diagnostic tissues by using different fixatives. In addition, the effects of tissue processing on the microscopic appearance of tissue essentially has been ignored in most studies. Archives of paraffin blocks of pathological tissue contain essentially paraffin blocks fixed in 10% NBF. Therefore, if retrospective studies use archival paraffin blocks to correlate the molecular features of diseases with their outcomes, the studies must be based on tissue fixed in 10% NBF. Studies of how fixation in 10% NBF interacts with histochemical and immunohistochemical staining are limited in number and most are based on relatively long fixation times (> or = 36 h). Currently, fixation times in 10% NBF have been reduced to < 24 h. Little is known about fixation in 10% NBF and its interaction with tissue processing for any period of fixation, especially short times. Less is known about how fixation of tissues with 10% NBF interacts with more modern assays using immunohistochemistry, real time quantitative polymerise chain reaction (PCR), and techniques that depend on analysis of proteins extracted from paraffin blocks including multiplex immunoassays or mass spectrometry. In general, multiple antibody-antigen combinations are reported not to work in tissues fixed in 10% NBF, i.e., loss of immunorecognition is nearly complete for such antibody-antigen combinations as Ki67/MIB, estrogen receptor alpha (ERalpha) and Progesterone receptor (PR), and partial for Bcl-2. Several models have been developed to study the interactions of tissue fixation and immunorecognition, but most have viewed the problem with immunorecognition as completely caused by fixation. Also, some of the models discussed in this special symposium do not predict the effects of fixation on frozen tissues fixed in 10% NBF and not processed to paraffin blocks. This article is a brief review of issues attending the use of 10% NBF combined with tissue processing as an interrelated process to study biomarkers identified by immunohistochemistry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Formaldehyde / pharmacology*
  • Immunohistochemistry / methods
  • Tissue Fixation*


  • Biomarkers
  • Formaldehyde