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Staining of mast cells (MCs), including porcine ones, is critically dependent upon the fixation and staining technique. In the pig, mucosal and submucosal MCs do not stain or stain only faintly after formalin fixation. Some fixation methods are particularly recommended for MC staining, for example the fixation with Carnoy or lead salts. Zinc salt fixation (ZSF) has been reported to work excellently for the preservation of fixation-sensitive antigens. The aim of this study was to establish a reliable histological method for counting of MCs in the porcine intestinum. For this purpose, different tissue fixation and staining methods that also allow potential subsequent immunohistochemical investigations were evaluated in the porcine mucosa, as well as submucosa of small and large intestine. Tissues were fixed in Carnoy, lead acetate, lead nitrate, Zamboni and ZSF and stained subsequently with either polychromatic methylene blue, alcian blue or toluidine blue. For the first time our study reveals that ZSF, a heavy metal fixative, preserves metachromatic staining of porcine MCs. Zamboni fixation was not suitable for histochemical visualization of MCs in the pig intestine. All other tested fixatives were suitable. Alcian blue and toluidine blue co-stained intestinal goblet cells which made a prima facie identification of MCs difficult. The polychromatic methylene blue proved to be the optimal staining. In order to compare MC counting results of the different fixation methods, tissue shrinkage was taken into account. As even the same fixation caused shrinkage-differences between tissue from small and large intestine, different factors for each single fixation and intestinal localization had to be calculated. Tissue shrinkage varied between 19% and 57%, the highest tissue shrinkage was found after fixation with ZSF in the large intestine, the lowest one in the small intestine after lead acetate fixation. Our study emphasizes that MC counting results from data using different fixation techniques can only be compared if the respective study-immanent shrinkage factor has been determined and quantification results are adjusted accordingly.
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