Is immunostaining for Helicobacter pylori superior to the special stain thiazine in detecting small numbers of H. pylori in gastric biopsies?

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Applied Immunohistochemistry and Molecular Morphology








Detection; Helicobacter pylori; Immunohistochemistry


Helicobacter pylori is implicated in the pathogenesis of gastritis and duodenal ulcers, gastric lymphoma of the mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) type, and gastric adenocarcinoma. Eradication of H. pylori with antibiotic therapy therefore is essential, not only for the successful treatment of active gastritis, but also for the treatment and prevention of the MALT lymphoma. It has been suggested recently that immunostaining for H. pylori is more sensitive than special stains for the detection of the organism in the gastric biopsies after triple therapy. Fifty-five endoscopic mucosal biopsies from 38 patients, including 18 treated with H. pylori eradication therapy, were selected for immunostaining because they were either negative or contained rare H. pylori organisms by thiazine stain. Formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue sections were immunostained for H. pylori using a polyclonal antibody using standard immunoperoxidase technique. The results were compared with those obtained with the thiazine stain. Detection of H. pylori by immunostaining was easier and less time-consuming than by thiazine stain. There was complete agreement between immunostaining and thiazine stain in 48 (87%) cases. Of the 7 discordant cases, 3 (42%) were positive for H. pylori with thiazine only and 4 (48%) with immunostaining only. Given the nature of the selection of the study sample (absent to rare by thiazine stain), the discordance most likely represents a sampling error. The authors concluded that immunostaining for H. pylori did not appear to be more sensitive than special stains. Three cases with bacterial clumps were diagnosed previously as positive for H. pylori, but identified correctly as negative using both staining methods. Pathologists, however, should balance the added cost to patients of immunostaining against the time saved by the easier screening of the immunostained slides and the possibility of false positive results when special stains are interpreted by inexperienced pathologists.

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