UNIT 1.11 Counting Cells in Sectioned Material: A Suite of Techniques, Tools, and Tips

  1. Robert W. Williams1,
  2. Christopher S. von Bartheld2,
  3. Glenn D. Rosen3

Published Online: 1 NOV 2003

DOI: 10.1002/0471142301.ns0111s24

Current Protocols in Neuroscience

Current Protocols in Neuroscience

How to Cite

Williams, R. W., von Bartheld, C. S. and Rosen, G. D. 2003. Counting Cells in Sectioned Material: A Suite of Techniques, Tools, and Tips. Current Protocols in Neuroscience. 24:1.11:1.11.1–1.11.29.

Author Information

  1. 1

    University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis, Tennessee

  2. 2

    University of Nevada School of Medicine, Reno, Nevada

  3. 3

    Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 NOV 2003
  2. Published Print: JUL 2003


This unit presents protocols to obtain accurate estimates of cell density and cell number in sectioned material by using a light microscope. The “optical disector” or “3-D counting method” is described, followed by Abercrombie's less commonly used two-section comparison (TSC) method. These basic protocols are accompanied by four support protocols: one for celloidin embedding, which renders superb morphology, one for point counting, which is important for volume measurements and is almost always used in conjunction with the disector or 3-D counting, one for handling the potential problem of z-axis distortion and the consequences that this error can have on density estimates and sampling tactics when using the disector, and finally, one that provides a guide for calibrating and verifying estimates obtained by counting methods.


  • stereology;
  • optical disector;
  • cell counting;
  • counting box;
  • bias;
  • two-section comparison method;
  • histology;
  • celloidin;
  • Nissl stain;
  • Cavalieri's rule;
  • volume estimation;
  • z-axis compression;
  • tissue section;
  • differential shrinkage;
  • systematic bias calibration;
  • serial sections