Antigen retrieval immunohistochemistry under the influence of pH using monoclonal antibodies

S. R. Shi, S. A. Imam, L. Young, R. J. Cote, C. R. Taylor

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289 Scopus citations


Antigen retrieval (AR) incorporating high-temperature microwave (MW) heating of tissue sections before immunostaining is a revolutionary technique that can unmask the antigens in formalin-fixed tissue sections, thus making them available for immunohistochemical staining. Although high temperature is believed to be the primary mechanism in retrieval of antigens, a variety of chemical solutions have been tested to define an optimal AR solution. We tested the hypothesis that pH of the AR solution may influence the quality of immunostaining by using seven different AR buffer solutions at a series of different pH values ranging from 1 to 10. We evaluated the staining of monoclonal antibodies to cytoplasmic antigens (AE1, HMB45, NSE), nuclear antigens (MIB-1, PCNA, ER), and cell surface antigens (MT1, L26, EMA) on routinely formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded sections under different pH conditions with MW heating for 10 min. The intensity of immunostaining was graded in a blinded fashion. The pH value of the AR buffet solution was carefully measured before, immediately after, and 15 min after the AR procedure. The influence of pH on AR immunohistochemical staining can be summarized into three patterns. Some antigens (L26, PCNA, AE1, EMA, and NSE) showed excellent retrieval throughout the pH range. Other antigens (MIB1 and ER) showed strong intensity of immunohistochemical staining at very low pH and at neutral to high pH, but a dramatic decrease in the intensity of the AR immunostaining at moderately acidic pH (pH 3-6). Still others (MT1 and HMB45) showed increasing intensity of the AR immunostaining with increasing pH, but only weak immunostaining at low pH. Among the seven buffer solutions at any given pH value, the intensity of AR immunostaining was very similar. However, Tris-HCl buffer tended to produce better results at higher pH, compared with other buffers. Although high-temperature heating is believed to be the most important factor for the AR technique, the pH value of the AR solution is an important co-factor for some antigens. Optimization of the AR system should therefore include optimization of the pH of the AR solution. Our results indicate that AR immunostaining of Tris-HCl or sodium acetate buffet at pH 8- 9 may be suitable for most antigens, although certain nuclear antigens show optimal staining at low pH.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)193-201
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Histochemistry and Cytochemistry
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1995


  • Antigen retrieval technique
  • Buffer solutions
  • Human
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Monoclonal antibody
  • pH


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