Collection, Embedding and Special Staining of Kidney Samples

Collection, Embedding and Special Staining of Kidney Samples

Introduction to Kidney Histology

The kidney is a vital organ responsible for filtering blood, removing waste products, and regulating electrolyte balance in the body. Understanding its structure at the microscopic level, known as kidney histology, is crucial for diagnosing various renal diseases and disorders.

Collection of Kidney Samples

Before diving into the intricacies of kidney histology, it's essential to understand how kidney samples are collected for analysis. Typically, kidney tissue samples are obtained through biopsy procedures under local anesthesia. A small needle is inserted through the skin into the kidney to extract a tiny piece of tissue. This biopsy sample is then processed for further analysis, including embedding and staining.

Embedding of Kidney Samples

Embedding is a critical step in preparing tissue samples for microscopic examination. Once the kidney biopsy sample is collected, it undergoes a series of steps to ensure it can be sliced thinly for visualization under a microscope. This process involves embedding the tissue in a solid medium, usually paraffin wax or resin, to provide support and stability during sectioning.

The first step in embedding is fixation, where the tissue is treated with a fixative solution, typically formalin, to preserve its structure and prevent decay. After fixation, the tissue is dehydrated using a series of alcohol solutions to remove water from the tissue. Dehydration is essential to replace water with a substance that can infiltrate the tissue completely.

Once dehydrated, the tissue is immersed in a clearing agent, such as xylene, to remove the alcohol and make the tissue transparent. This step is crucial for ensuring that the embedding medium can penetrate the tissue evenly.

Finally, the tissue is infiltrated with the embedding medium, either paraffin wax or resin, which is then allowed to harden. The embedded tissue block is then ready for sectioning into thin slices for staining and microscopic examination.

Special Staining of Kidney Samples

Staining is a fundamental technique in histology that enhances the contrast and visibility of tissue structures under a microscope. Special stains are used to highlight specific components or structures within the tissue that may not be visible with routine staining techniques. In the case of kidney histology, special stains are employed to visualize various cellular elements and pathological changes associated with renal diseases.

H and E stained kidney tissue samples.Figure 1. H&E stained kidney tissue samples. (Alilou M, et al.; 2013)

One commonly used special stain in kidney histology is Periodic Acid-Schiff (PAS) stain. PAS stain selectively stains glycogen, mucin, and other carbohydrate-rich structures pink to magenta, allowing for the visualization of basement membranes, glycogen stores, and mucin-producing cells within the kidney tissue.

Another important stain in kidney histology is Masson's trichrome stain, which differentiates collagen fibers (blue-green) from other tissue components. This stain is particularly useful in assessing the degree of fibrosis or scarring in renal tissue, which is a hallmark of chronic kidney disease.

Additionally, immunohistochemical staining techniques are utilized to identify specific proteins or antigens within the kidney tissue. These stains use antibodies that bind to target proteins, which are then visualized using chromogenic or fluorescent markers. Immunohistochemistry is invaluable for diagnosing renal tumors, autoimmune diseases, and other conditions characterized by abnormal protein expression.


In summary, the collection, embedding, and special staining of kidney samples are essential steps in the study of kidney histology. By meticulously processing biopsy specimens and applying specialized staining techniques, researchers and clinicians can gain valuable insights into the structure and function of the kidney at the microscopic level. This knowledge is instrumental in diagnosing and managing a wide range of renal diseases and disorders, ultimately improving patient outcomes and quality of life.

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  1. Alilou M, et al.; Segmentation of cell nuclei in heterogeneous microscopy images: a reshapable templates approach. Comput Med Imaging Graph. 2013, 37(7-8):488-99.

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