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Haematoxylin, hematoxylin, Natural Black 1, or C.I. 75290 is extracted from the bark of the logwood tree. When oxidized it forms haematein, a compound that forms strongly colored complexes with certain metal ions, notably Fe(III) and Al(III) salts. Metal-haematein complexes are used to stain cell nuclei prior to examination under a microscope. Structures that stain with iron- or aluminium-haematein are often called basophilic, even though the mechanism of the staining is different from that of staining with basic dyes.

Haematoxylin and eosin stain is one of the most commonly used stains in histology. It is a permanent stain as opposed to temporary stains (e.g. iodine solution in KI).

Other common stain is phosphotungstic acid haematoxylin, a mix of haematoxylin with phosphotungstic acid.

In 1970s, due to clear felling of forests in Brazil and Central America, there was a shortage of logwood and therefore of haematoxylin. Its price went to record heights, which affected the cost of diagnostic histopathology, and prompted a search for alternative nuclear stains. Before the use of any alternatives became firmly established, haematoxylin returned to the market, though at a higher price, and resumed its place in histopathology. There were several dyes recommended as replacements: Celestine blue B (CI 51050), Gallocyanin (CI 51030), Gallein (CI 45445) and Solochrome cyanin (CI 43820). All four used Fe(III) as the mordant. Another alternative is the red dye brazilin, which differs from haematoxylin by only one hydroxyl group.


Haematoxylin staining solutions

These stains are commonly employed for histologic studies. The mordants used to demonstrate nuclear and cytoplasmic structures are alum and iron, forming lakes or colored complexes (dye-mordant-tissue complexes), the color of which will depend on the salt used. Aluminium salt lakes are usually colored blue white while ferric salt lakes are colored blue-black.

Aluminium haematoxylin solutions

The three main alum haematoxylin solutions employed are Ehrlich's haematoxylin, Harris's haematoxylin and Mayer's haematoxylin. The name haemalum is preferable to "haematoxylin" for these solutions because haematein, a product of oxidation of haematoxylin, is the compound that combines with aluminium ions to form the active dye-metal complex. Alum haematoxylin solutions impart to the nuclei of cells a light transparent red stain which rapidly turns blue on exposure to any neutral or alkaline liquid.

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