Fibrosis pp 213-222 | Cite as

Detection of Infiltrating Mast Cells Using a Modified Toluidine Blue Staining

  • Nahum Puebla-OsorioEmail author
  • Seri N. E. Sarchio
  • Stephen E. Ullrich
  • Scott N. Byrne
Part of the Methods in Molecular Biology book series (MIMB, volume 1627)


Mast cells are part of the immune system and characteristically contain histamine- and heparin-rich basophilic granules. While these cells are usually associated with allergy and anaphylaxis, they also promote wound healing and angiogenesis and confer protection against pathogens. The presence of these cells is sometimes indicative of a poor prognosis, especially in skin cancer, pancreatic cancer, and lymphoma. Toluidine blue staining of acid-fast granules is an established method for the identification and quantification of mast cells. Generating detailed information on the location of mast cells within tissues is problematic using this technique and often requires serial sections from adjacent tissue to be separately stained with hematoxylin and eosin (H&E). Staining serial sections is not always possible, particularly if the sample is very small or rare. In such cases, a method of simultaneously identifying and localizing mast cells in a tissue would be advantageous. Toluidine blue and H&E are not commonly combined because H&E includes repetitive washes in water, which may affect the efficacy of the aqueous-soluble toluidine blue. We have developed and tested a novel staining technique that integrates toluidine blue between hematoxylin and eosin in one simple procedure. This protocol works on both frozen and formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue and readily allows for the identification of purple-stained mast cells against a clean H&E background. This facilitates a more accurate localization and proper counting of mast cells in normal and affected tissue.

Key words

Toluidine blue Hematoxylin and eosin Mast cells Skin Inflamed intestine 



This work was supported by the Cancer Institute NSW (Career Development and Support Fellowship to SNB; 07/CDF/01-07), the Multiple Sclerosis Research Australia (Project Grant: 12-007), the NSW Cancer Council (Project Grant: RG14-14), the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia and the Sydney Medical School Foundation, and the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (SEU; RP120777). Support was also provided by the histopathology facilities in the Discipline of Pathology, Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney, and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. The animal and histology support facilities at the MD Anderson Cancer Center are funded in part by a core grant from the US National Cancer Institute (CA16672). We thank Bree Lege (RAII/MDACC) for insightful comments on the methodology.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nahum Puebla-Osorio
    • 1
    Email author
  • Seri N. E. Sarchio
    • 2
    • 3
  • Stephen E. Ullrich
    • 4
  • Scott N. Byrne
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Lymphoma/MyelomaThe University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer CenterHoustonUSA
  2. 2.Cellular Photoimmunology Group, Discipline of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, Sydney Medical School at The Charles Perkins CentreUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  3. 3.Faculty of Medicine and Health SciencesUniversiti Putra MalaysiaMalaysiaMalaysia
  4. 4.Department of Immunology and the Center for Cancer Immunology ResearchThe University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer CenterHoustonUSA

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