Article

Histochemistry

, Volume 86, Issue 3, pp 331-336

First online:

Understanding Romanowsky staining

I: The Romanowsky-Giemsa effect in blood smears
  • R. W. HorobinAffiliated withDepartment of Anatomy and Cell Biology, The University
  • , K. J. WalterAffiliated withDepartment of Anatomy and Cell Biology, The University

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Summary

Normal blood smears were stained by the standardised azure B-eosin Y Romanowsky procedure recently introduced by the ICSH, and the classical picture resulted. The effects of varying the times and temperature of staining, the composition of the solvent (buffer concentration, methanol content, & pH), the concentration of the dyes, and the mode of fixation were studied. The results are best understood in terms of the following staining mechanism. Initial colouration involves simple acid and basic dyeing. Eosin yields red erythrocytes and eosinophil granules. Azure B very rapidly gives rise to blue stained chromatin, neutrophil specific granules, platelets and ribosome-rich cytoplasms; also to violet basophil granules. Subsequently the azure B in certain structures combines with eosin to give purple azure B-eosin complexes, leaving other structures with their initial colours. The selectivity of complex formation is controlled by rate of entry of eosin into azure B stained structures. Only faster staining structures (i.e. chromatin, neutrophil specific granules, and platelets) permit formation of the purple complex in the standard method. This staining mechanism illuminates scientific problems (e.g. the nature of ‘toxic’ granules) and assists technical trouble-shooting (e.g. why nuclei sometimes stain blue, not purple).