In our study we systematically compared the alternative fixatives acidified formal alcohol (AFA), PAXgene®, HOPE®, and combinations of AFA or formalin with ultrasound treatment to standard (buffered) formalin fixation. We examined general morphology and detectability of protein structures by immunohistochemistry of the membrane receptors epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor (IGF-1R), and phosphorylated human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (phospho-HER2). In order to allow for stringent comparability of different fixation techniques, we used matched mouse xenograft tumor samples from three different human cancer cell lines (colon, ovarian, and non-small cell lung cancer), either fixed conventionally with formalin or an alternative fixative. Tissue morphology after fixation with AFA and PAXgene® was comparable to formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissue (FFPET) morphology. Ultrasound fixations resulted in slightly inferior morphology and HOPE® fixation preserved morphology only poorly compared to FFPET in this system. None of the tested alternative fixatives enabled immunohistochemical detectability of all three targets in the same manner as FFPET. Pronounced staining was possible for EGFR and IGF-1R with all alternative fixatives but HOPE®, and phospho-HER2 staining was only noteworthy with formalin-ultrasound-fixed tissue. Therefore, the use of alternative fixatives comes with the need for careful validation of obtained IHC results individually for each target.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00428-012-1248-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Keywords: Formalin fixation, Immunohistochemistry, AFA, HOPE®, PAXgene®, Ultrasound