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Biol Trace Elem Res. 2008 Mar;121(3):221-5. Epub 2007 Oct 19.

Leaching of trace elements from biological tissue by formalin fixation.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway.


In studies of trace elements in biological tissue, it is imperative that sample handling does not substantially change element concentrations. In many cases, fresh tissue is not available for study, but formalin-fixed tissue is. Formalin fixation has the potential to leach elements from the tissue, but few studies have been published in this area. The concentrations of 19 elements were determined by high-resolution inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry in formalin in which human and rat brain samples had been stored for different time durations ranging from weeks up to several years. Additional analysis was carried out in fixed brain samples. There was substantial leaching of elements from the tissue into the formalin, and the leaching varied considerably between different elements. For example, formalin concentrations of As, Cd, Mg, Rb, and Sb increased more than 100-fold upon long-term (years) storage, while for Ni and Cr, the leaching was negligible. The degree of leaching was strongly time-dependent. In conclusion, formalin fixation and storage of biological tissue has the potential to leach substantial fractions of several trace elements from the tissue. The potential of leaching must be critically considered when using formalin-fixed biological tissue in trace metal analysis.

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