Comparison of microscopic imaging strategies for evaluating immunocytochemical (PAP) steroid receptor heterogeneity

Cytometry. 1991;12(3):207-20. doi: 10.1002/cyto.990120303.


Receptogram analysis was compared with three other imaging strategies for immunocytochemical assay of estrogen receptors. These included nuclear-specific methods for analysis of nuclear integrated optical density (IOD) or mean optical density (MOD) histograms, and field-specific methods, where the pixel optical density (POD) histogram was evaluated for the composite nuclear phase. Measurements in culture and in breast cancer cryosections were treated separately to isolate geometric considerations. In culture receptograms the modality of IOD and MOD histograms and their bivariate contour maps revealed one, two, or more subpopulations with discrete receptor content and concentration. However, when the field of nuclei was imaged as a whole, regardless of the number of subpopulations, POD histograms showed two minima, defining three intranuclear phases. This was due to mottling and variegation of intranuclear chromatin and nucleolar immunostaining and not to differences between nuclei. These limitations were also revealed in breast cancer sections. In POD histograms, % unstained pixels did not provide a reliable estimate of % receptor negative nuclei, as determined by their enumeration. In sections, correction of IOD for nuclear volume variability was essential to suppress artifactual peaks not representing differences in receptor content. This was achieved by multiplying nuclear IOD by the spherical nuclear radius (S) of individual slab sections. Peaks of IOD(S) then reflected receptor content on a true ratio scale. Only receptogram analysis, which incorporates these strategies, permitted objective evaluation of receptor heterogeneity at the level of tumor subpopulations.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / chemistry*
  • Cell Nucleus / chemistry
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Densitometry / methods*
  • Frozen Sections
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Immunohistochemistry / methods*
  • Receptors, Estrogen / analysis*
  • Receptors, Progesterone / analysis*


  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Receptors, Progesterone