Virchows Archiv B

, 54:73 | Cite as

The influence of fixation on the morphology of mouse epidermis

A light and electron microscopical study with special reference to “dark cells” and epidermal carcinogenesis
  • Morten Glasø
  • Torstein Hovig


Different opinions exist on the normal ultrastructure of the epidermis including the significance of so-called basal dark cells. Thus, the dark cells are still assumed to be key elements in experimental skin carcinogenesis. We therefore explored the effects of tissue fixation on the ultrastructure of the epidermis. Untreated normal hairless mouse skin was processed for transmission electron microscopy with two different sets of fixatives, applied either by perfusion-immersion or immersion fixation only. The morphology of both the basal and the lower suprabasal layers of the epidermis, including the extracellular space, the shape and volume of the cells, their electron density, and the organisation of some of the organelles, were profoundly affected by the choice of fixatives. The non-keratinocytes showed comparable changes, including the appearance of a dark phenotype. The incidence of small electron-dense keratinocytes (dark cells) and the nature of their ultrastructure changed markedly with the fixation procedure. We were not able to identify undifferentiated dark cells. The pattern of changes and the quality of the morphological picture were almost unaffected by the mode of fixation. The upper suprabasal and the cornified layers appeared to be more or less unaltered by the change in fixatives and the method of application. The vehicle osmolality of the primary fixative was found to be mainly responsible for the ultrastructural appearances. A low vehicle osmolality may be responsible for the occurrence of the dark cell phenomenon, by inducing swelling artefacts of many cells with compression of some neighbouring cells.

Key words

Dark cells Epidermis Fixation Microscopy electron Tumor promotion 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Morten Glasø
    • 1
  • Torstein Hovig
    • 2
  1. 1.Laboratory for Carcinogenesis and Cell KineticsNorway
  2. 2.Laboratory for Electron Microscopy, Institute of PathologyUniversity of Oslo, The National HospitalNorway

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