Medprime Blog
October 30, 2021

Special staining and digital microscopy


What is Cellular Staining?

Cell staining is a technique that can be used to better visualize cells and cell components under a microscope. By using different stains, one can preferentially stain certain cell components, such as a nucleus or a cell wall, or the entire cell. Most stains can be used on fixed, or non-living cells, while only some can be used on living cells; some stains can be used on either living or non-living cells.

Why Stain Cells?

The most basic reason that cells are stained is to enhance visualization of the cell or certain cellular components under a microscope. Cells may also be stained to highlight metabolic processes or to differentiate between live and dead cells in a sample. Cells may also be enumerated by staining cells to determine biomass in an environment of interest.

How Are Cells Stained and Slides Prepared?

Cell staining techniques and preparation depend on the type of stain and analysis used. One or more of the following procedures may be required to prepare a sample:

What Are Some Common Stains?

There are several types of staining media, each can be used for a different purpose. Commonly used stains and how they work are listed below. All these stains may be used on fixed, or non-living, cells and those that can be used on living cells are noted.

After staining cells and preparing slides, they may be stored in the dark and possibly refrigerated to preserve the stained slide, and then observed with a microscope.

Introduction to Microorganisms – Bacteria

Microorganisms are living organisms that include bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses. They are so small that they require the aid of a microscope to visualize, sometimes even an electron microscope. Bacteria, fungi, and protozoa can be identified and classified with histochemical procedures, and viruses are generally identified with immunohistochemical procedures.

The Gram Stain

Scientists will often choose to perform a differential stain, as this allows them to gather additional information about the bacteria they are working with. Differential stains use more than one stain, and cells will have a different appearance based on their chemical or structural properties. Some examples of differential stains are the Gram stain, acid-fast stain, and endospore stain. You will learn how to prepare bacterial cells for staining, and learn about the gram staining technique.

This very commonly used staining procedure was first developed by the Danish bacteriologist Hans Christian Gram in 1882 (published in 1884) while working with tissue samples from the lungs of patients who had died from pneumonia. Since then, the Gram stain procedure has been widely used by microbiologists everywhere to obtain important information about the bacterial species they are working with. Knowing the Gram reaction of a clinical isolate can help the health care professional make a diagnosis and choose the appropriate antibiotic for treatment.

Gram stain results reflect differences in cell wall composition. Gram positive cells have thick layers of peptidoglycan (a carbohydrate) in their cell walls; Gram negative bacteria have very little. Gram positive bacteria also have teichoic acids, whereas Gram negatives do not. Gram negative cells have an outer membrane that resembles the phospholipid bilayer of the cell membrane. The outer membrane contains lipopolysaccharides (LPS), which are released as endotoxins when Gram negative cells die. This can be of concern to a person with an infection caused by a gram negative organism.

gram-stain Image 2: Microscopic image of a Gram stain of mixed Gram-positive cocci (Staphylococcus aureus ATCC 25923, purple) and Gram-negative bacilli (Escherichia coli ATCC 11775, red). Magnification:1,000. Image by Y Tambe.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Mycobacterium leprae, and Helicobacter pylori are a few diagnostically relevant special staining methods still relevant in Microscopy

Mycobacterium tuberculosis

It causes tuberculosis, is non-motile and rod-shaped, and is characterized and identified by a property known as “acid-fast” meaning that once absorbed, the dye used to stain the bacilli should not be removed when incubated in an acid rinse. The preferred method of identification is an AFB stain, otherwise called an acid-fast bacteria stain.

Mycolic acid is the mechanism responsible for the acid-fast property. The walls of the bacteria produce this waxy substance called mycolic acid. This acid links with substances within the cell walls of the bacteria, making them resistant to decolorization with acid alcohol treatment. The most common choices of AFB stains are Kinyouin’s carbol fuchsin or Ziehl-Neelsen carbol fuchsin. The solutions, procedures, and results are similar for both.

The Results

( Mycobacterium-tuberculosis

Mycobacterium leprae

It causes leprosy, has acid-fast properties similar to Mycobacterium tuberculosis but much less effective. The preferred stain for demonstration is Fite’s Faraco.

The Results


Helicobacter pylori


It is spiral-shaped and is associated with gastric inflammation, peptic ulcers, and gastric carcinoma. They have argyrophilic properties and cannot absorb or reduce silver. The preferred stains for demonstration are Warthin Starry silver or one of many modifications, Giemsa, and immunohistochemistry procedures (most sensitive).

The Results


Introduction to Microorganisms - Fungi

Fungi consist of both single and multicellular organisms with distinct nuclei and cell walls. Three common fungi known to cause diseases in humans are Cryptococcus neoformans, Histoplasma capsulatum, and Pneumocystis carinii.

Cryptococcus Neoformans

It lives in the environment throughout the world and can cause meningitis in humans. Infections usually occur in immunocompromised individuals. Capsules are clearly demonstrated by the mucicarmine stain as well as by a methenamine silver procedure.

The Results


Histoplasma capsulatam

It causes histoplasmosis. Infection occurs from breathing in these spores, which results in flu-like symptoms. If left untreated, it can disseminate throughout the body and cause death. It is more common in immunocompromised patients. It can be demonstrated by the Gomori’s methenamine silver stain.

Pneumocystis carinii

It was previously classified as protozoa but is now considered a fungus-based on nucleic acid and biochemical analysis. It can lead to a fatal pneumonia in immunosuppressed patients. It can be demonstrated by the Gomori’s methenamine silver stain.

Gomori’s methenamine silver

Gomori’s methenamine silver relies on cells that have an argentaffin property. It can reduce invisible silver ions to visible metallic silver without an external aid and is opposite of argyrophilic as seen in Helicobacter pylori

The Results





Why Digital Microscopy?

A digital microscope is a modern microscope that lacks an eyepiece, an immense difference from the traditional optical microscope. They have a digital camera which is the detector and the image output device. The display of the image is done on a computer screen or monitor, defining the microscope’s digital scope.

This microscope’s light source is an inbuilt LED-source as compared to the optical microscope whose light source is accessed from outside the microscope through an eyepiece. Therefore, in the digital microscope, human optics access is eliminated since the entire apparatus has an image monitoring system.

There are variants of the digital Microscope including the USB digitalized microscopes which are very expensively industrialized digital microscopes, such as the Kohler illumination and the Phase-contrast Illumination, with installed webcams and macro lens.

The first digital Microscope was manufactured in 1986 in Tokyo, Japan which constituted a control box and a lens the was connected to the camera. This is currently known as the Hirox Co. LTD. Because of its computerized connection, it can handle very large digital data obtained from the digitalized camera installed within the microscope. In 2005, a more advanced digital microscope was manufactured which did not require a computer, instead, it had an in-built unit that constituted a monitor and a computer. In 2015, however, a new digitalized microscope was also constructed, with an external computer, that has a USB connection, which expanded on the longevity and speed of the computer. This reduced the external cable connections along with the size of the computer itself was reduced.

They have an image processing software, that adjusts the image brightness, enhances the contrast, scale, and crop the image.

The development of the digital Microscope takes into account two of its major functions. The Input and out functions and in this aspect, the digital microscope is made of two major parts;

  1. The hardware – this is majorly the analog part of the microscope, with a light source, the analog microscope, a camera, and the camera components. the Camera replaces the eyepiece of the traditional microscope. The image from the specimen gets focused on the camera and it is displayed on the computer monitor screen which is then stored and can also be processed.

  2. The software – This is the section of the microscope that has the camera drivers and the image processing software, which has organized units which include the viewer unit, brightness adjustment unit, image contrast unit, histogram equalization unit, image scaling unit and the image cropping unit. The image viewer unit continuously displays the specimen and captures the image from the microscope which is stored and processed depending on the user’s preferences. The image brightness adjustment unit enhances the brightness of the image depending on how much light is focused on the specimen. It controls the intensity of the light in pixels.

Optical microscopy is a well-established tool in biological research. In modern microscopy, analogue light detectors like the human eye or photographic film are replaced with a digital camera. Digital microscopy comprises image formation by optics, image registration by a digital camera, and saving of mage data in a computer file. Making optimal use of digital microscopy requires taking into account limitations that are particular to each of these processes.

Digital microscopes are considered a relatively new type of inspection and measurement technology. The image collected by the camera is shown in real-time on a built-in display. Their ability to cover a vast magnification range makes them valuable tools for the diagnostic world in Anatomical pathology, Cytopathology, Microbiology, R&D activities across many fields, quality and failure analysis and manufacturing-based applications.

Advantages of Digital Microscopes

The key advantage being as follows:

CILIKA has combined technology to be user friendly and also look at ease to exchange views and thoughts thus combining education and diagnostic practice

The Cilika portable series microscope is the perfect product for those who require high quality imaging on the go. From work to home, from lab to field or from practicals to seminars, the Cilika portable microscopes can travel with you while For microscope users who prefer the familiarity and sturdiness of traditional desktop microscope designs, but desire the advantages of a digital microscope, Cilika Benchtop is the way to go.

Experience the boon of microscopy, user friendly technology and the right solutions and mix of optical and the digital world for Histopathologists, Cytologists. Microbiologists, Mycologists and Haematologist

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