Design-based stereology: introduction to basic concepts and practical approaches for estimation of cell number

Toxicol Pathol. 2010 Dec;38(7):1011-25. doi: 10.1177/0192623310385140. Epub 2010 Oct 28.


In regulatory toxicology studies, qualitative histopathological evaluation is the reference standard for assessment of test article-related morphological changes. In certain cases, quantitative analysis may be required to detect more subtle morphological changes, such as small changes in cell number. When the detection of subtle test article-related morphological changes is critical to the decision-making process, sensitive quantitative methods are needed. Design-based stereology provides the tools for obtaining accurate, precise quantitative structural data from tissue sections. These tools have the sensitivity necessary to detect small changes by combining statistical sampling principles with geometric analysis of the tissue microstructure. It differs from other morphometric methods based on tissue section analysis by providing estimates that are statistically valid, truly three-dimensional, and referent to the entire organ. Further, because the precision of the stereological analysis procedure can be predicted, studies can be designed and powered to detect subtle, potentially toxicologically significant changes. Although stereological methods have not been widely applied in toxicologic pathology, recent advances have made it feasible to implement these methods in a regulatory toxicology setting, particularly methods for estimation of total cell number.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Count / methods*
  • Cell Count / statistics & numerical data*
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional / methods*
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional / statistics & numerical data
  • Microscopy / methods
  • Research Design*
  • Toxicity Tests / methods*