Formalin deposition as artifact in biopsies from patients affected by a new variant of endemic pemphigus foliaceus in El Bagre, Colombia, South America

J Cutan Pathol. 2010 Aug;37(8):835-42. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0560.2009.01492.x. Epub 2009 Dec 9.


Background: Most autoimmune diseases occur sporadically; however, endemic pemphigus foliaceus (EPF) is present in specific locales restricted to some geographic rural regions mostly in South America, Central America and in Tunisia (Africa). Its geographic restriction makes it an invaluable natural model for studying how the environment, genetic background and host response contribute to the development of autoimmunity. We described a new variant of EPF in El Bagre, Colombia, (El Bagre-EPF). When we examined the skin biopsies from 10 patients and controls from the endemic area, we detected in a systematic manner several types of pigmentation, sometimes intracellular, and sometimes in the extracellular matrix in most biopsies.

Aim: We aim to determine the nature of this pigment in these skin biopsies.

Methods: We studied 10 patients and 10 controls matched by sex, age and work activity living in the endemic area by routine hematoxylin and eosin (H&E).

Results: We were unable to find any bacteriological or parasitic organism. Specifically, we searched for several tropical disease agents as possible causative agents of this pigment. Iron stains and melanin pigment bleaching techniques failed to determine the etiology of this pigment. We then tried the removal of formalin pigment using picric acid. The pigment was removed after very strong treatment with different acids including picric acid.

Conclusions: Formalin pigment shares many properties with hemozoin. In this case, the authors recommend the use of neutral buffered formalin to prevent the formation of formalin pigment especially after long periods of fixation when taking biopsies under extreme temperature and environmental humidity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Artifacts*
  • Colombia / epidemiology
  • Endemic Diseases*
  • Formaldehyde*
  • Humans
  • Pemphigus / epidemiology*
  • Pemphigus / pathology*
  • Staining and Labeling / methods*


  • Formaldehyde