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Abstract

The degree of metachromasia of mast cell granules is known to vary with the type of tissue fixation and among different tissues and species. The present study sought to determine whether mast cells in dog skin are heterogeneous with respect to fixation and staining properties. We performed skin biopsies in six anesthetized, atopic dogs and one mongrel dog. One biopsy was fixed in formalin and a second, from a parallel abdominal site, was fixed in basic lead acetate (Mota's solution). Adjacent sections from each biopsy were stained with alcian blue (1%, pH 0.5) or for chloroacetate esterase activity. In alcian blue-stained sections, one-third fewer mast cells were detected in skin fixed in formalin (1,836 ± 454 mast cells/mm3, mean ± SEM) than in skin fixed in basic lead acetate (2,684 ± 527 mast cells/mm3) (P < 0.05). The chloroacetate esterase reaction detected the larger number of mast cells regardless of the fixative used. We conclude that mast cell heterogeneity, as demonstrated by metachromatic staining following different types of tissue fixation, exists in dog skin. “Typical” mast cells stain with alcian blue regardless of fixation; however, “atypical” mast cells exhibit metachromasia only after fixation in basic lead acetate. Both the typical and atypical types of mast cells have chloroacetate esterase activity.