Immunohistology--past, present, and future

Adv Anat Pathol. 2010 Nov;17(6):404-18. doi: 10.1097/PAP.0b013e3181f8957c.


The rapid development of immunohistochemistry, a morphology-based technique, has come about through refinements in detection systems and an increasing range of sensitive and specific antibodies that have allowed application of the technique to formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissues. The introduction of heat-induced antigen retrieval has been a significant milestone to compliment these developments so that the immunohistochemistry is firmly entrenched as an indispensable adjunct to morphologic diagnosis. Although this ancillary stain was initially used in a qualitative manner, problems surrounding the many variables that influence antigen preservation in formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissues were not a major issue and laboratories strived to optimize their staining protocols to the material they accessioned and processed. The advent of personalized medicine and targeted cancer treatment has imposed the need to quantitate the stain reaction product and has resulted in calls to standardize the process of immunostaining. A closer examination of the variables that influence the ability to show antigens in formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissues revealed many important variables, particularly in the preanalytical phase of the assay, that are beyond the control of the accessioning laboratory. Although analytical factors have the potential to be standardized, the actions of many pivotal procedures including fixation and antigen retrieval are not completely understood. Postanalytical processes including threshold and cut-off values require consensus and standardization and it is clear that some of these goals can be achieved through the direction of national and international organizations associated with cancer diagnosis and treatment. With the ability to serve as a surrogate marker of many genetic abnormalities, immunohistochemistry enters a new era and the need to better understand some of the mechanisms fundamental to the technique become more pressing and the development of true quantitative assays is imperative. There is also an increasing appreciation that the technique highlights patterns of staining that reflect exquisite localization to organelles and tissue structures that are not appreciable in routine stains, adding a further dimension to morphologic diagnosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry / methods*
  • Immunohistochemistry / trends*
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Pathology / methods
  • Pathology / trends