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Stain Technol. 1990;65(5):231-41.

A metachromatic dye-ATPase method for the simultaneous identification of skeletal muscle fiber types I, IIA, IIB and IIC.

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Department of Anatomical Sciences, College of Medicine, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City 73190.


The histochemical demonstration of quantitative differences in myofibrillar ATPase activity at the selective pH optima of the various types of human skeletal muscle fibers is the most widely used technique for their differentiation. The basis of the reaction is the deposition of insoluble salts of inorganic phosphate cleaved from ATP by myofibrillar ATPase(s) followed by substitution of the phosphates with less soluble chromogenic salts. Doriguzzi and associates reported using metachromatic dyes to demonstrate quantitative differences in phosphate deposition among different fiber types. Following routine ATPase histochemistry and staining with either azure A or toluidine blue, fibers with low ATPase activity (and low phosphate content) were stained metachromatically while fibers with high ATPase activity (and high phosphate content) were orthochromatic with the intensity of color proportional to the content of insoluble phosphate. The metachromasia was readily lost after immoderate washing in aqueous solutions or routine dehydration in ethanol, with consequent diminished fiber type distinction. A critical modification of this technique is reported in which incubation of frozen sections of human skeletal muscle in ATP-containing medium is carried out at room temperature (22-24 C), rather than the usual 37 C, followed by a revised washing and dehydration protocol. With these modifications, the four human skeletal muscle fiber types (types I, IIA, IIB, and IIC) can be identified rapidly and reliably in single sections, obviating the need for examination of serial sections. The tinctorial differentiation allows fiber type identification even in black and white photographs.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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