Single step modified ink staining for Tzanck test: Quick detection of herpetic giant cells in Tzanck smear


  • H. M. and T. A. contributed equally to this manuscript.

Hitoshi Mizutani, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Dermatology, Graduate School of Medicine, Mie University, Tsu, Mie 514-8507, Japan. Email:


Tzanck test has been recently re-evaluated as a method for the diagnosis of herpes virus infection. Giemsa staining for the Tzanck test is time-consuming and laborious. There is a need to develop simple and quick staining methods for bedside diagnosis of this disease. We report a single step and quick method for staining herpes giant cells in Tzanck smears using routinely available inks and physiological saline. A keratinocyte cell line (HaCaT) was cultured on a slide glass and stained with various commercially available blue, blue–black and black inks serially diluted with physiological saline. Clinical smear samples from herpes lesions were also stained with these solutions without specific pretreatment. The nuclei of HaCaT were clearly stained showing high contrast with the cytoplasm using 5% Parker–Quink blue–black ink saline solution. Concentration of ink solution higher or lower than 5% resulted in less contrast. Blue or black inks or other manufacturers’ inks can also be used, but staining of the cultured keratinocytes was less clear. Smear of clinical samples from herpes lesions were also stained with 5% ink solution. The nuclei of the multinucleated giant cells were clearly stained, and the sample could be immediately used for microscopic examination. One step staining of Tzanck smear using this diluted ink solution is an inexpensive and a convenient bedside diagnostic tool for the dermatologist.