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Methods. 2010 Dec;52(4):281-6. doi: 10.1016/j.ymeth.2010.09.005. Epub 2010 Oct 1.

The search for an optimal DNA, RNA, and protein detection by in situ hybridization, immunohistochemistry, and solution-based methods.

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Divisions of Hematology & Medical Oncology, Department of Internal Medicine, Comprehensive Cancer Center, College of Medicine, The Ohio State University, 320 West 10th Avenue, Columbus, OH 43210, USA.


Clinical trials and correlative laboratory research are increasingly reliant upon archived paraffin-embedded samples. Therefore, the proper processing of biological samples is an important step to sample preservation and for downstream analyses like the detection of a wide variety of targets including micro RNA, DNA and proteins. This paper analyzed the question whether routine fixation of cells and tissues in 10% buffered formalin is optimal for in situ and solution phase analyses by comparing this fixative to a variety of cross linking and alcohol (denaturing) fixatives. We examined the ability of nine commonly used fixative regimens to preserve cell morphology and DNA/RNA/protein quality for these applications. Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and bovine papillomavirus (BPV)-infected tissues and cells were used as our model systems. Our evaluation showed that the optimal fixative in cell preparations for molecular hybridization techniques was "gentle" fixative with a cross-linker such as paraformaldehyde or a short incubation in 10% buffered formalin. The optimal fixatives for tissue were either paraformaldehyde or low concentration of formalin (5% of formalin). Methanol was the best of the non cross-linking fixatives for in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry. For PCR-based detection of DNA or RNA, some denaturing fixatives like acetone and methanol as well as "gentle" cross-linking fixatives like paraformaldehyde out-performed other fixatives. Long term fixation was not proposed for DNA/RNA-based assays. The typical long-term fixation of cells and tissues in 10% buffered formalin is not optimal for combined analyses by in situ hybridization, immunohistochemistry, or--if one does not have unfixed tissues--solution phase PCR. Rather, we recommend short term less intense cross linking fixation if one wishes to use the same cells/tissue for in situ hybridization, immunohistochemistry, and solution phase PCR.

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