Alterations of mouse lung tissue dimensions during processing for morphometry: a comparison of methods

Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2014 Feb 15;306(4):L341-50. doi: 10.1152/ajplung.00329.2013. Epub 2013 Dec 27.


Preservation of original tissue dimensions is an essential prerequisite for morphometric studies. Shrinkage occurring during tissue processing for histology may severely influence the appearance of structures seen under the microscope and stereological calculations. Therefore, shrinkage has to be avoided so that estimates obtained by application of unbiased stereology are indeed unbiased. The present study investigates the alterations of tissue dimensions of mouse lung samples during processing for histology. Different fixatives as well as embedding protocols are considered. Mouse lungs were fixed by instillation of either 4% formalin or a mixture of 1.5% glutaraldehyde/1.5% formaldehyde. Tissue blocks were sampled according to principles of stereology for embedding in paraffin, glycol methacrylate without treatment with osmium tetroxide and uranyl acetate, and glycol methacrylate including treatment with osmium tetroxide and uranyl acetate before dehydration. Shrinkage was investigated by stereological measurements of dimensional changes of tissue cut faces. Results show a shrinkage of the cut face areas of roughly 40% per lung during paraffin embedding, 30% during "simple" glycol methacrylate embedding, and <3% during osmium tetroxide/uranyl acetate/glycol methacrylate embedding. Furthermore, the superiority of the glutaraldehyde-containing fixative regarding shrinkage is demonstrated. In conclusion, the use of a glutaraldehyde-containing fixative and embedding in glycol methacrylate with previous treatment of the samples with osmium tetroxide and uranyl acetate before dehydration is recommended for stereological studies of the mouse lung.

Keywords: embedding; fixation; mouse lung; shrinkage; stereology.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Desiccation
  • Fixatives / chemistry
  • Glutaral / chemistry
  • Lung / anatomy & histology*
  • Male
  • Methacrylates / chemistry
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Organ Size
  • Organometallic Compounds / chemistry
  • Osmium Tetroxide / chemistry
  • Paraffin Embedding
  • Plastic Embedding
  • Specimen Handling
  • Tissue Fixation


  • Fixatives
  • Methacrylates
  • Organometallic Compounds
  • uranyl acetate
  • hydroxyethyl methacrylate
  • Osmium Tetroxide
  • Glutaral