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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Optimization of biotinyl-tyramide-based in situ hybridization for sensitive background-free applications on formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue specimens

Mark F Evans*, Holly A Aliesky and Kumarasen Cooper

Author Affiliations

Department of Pathology, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT 05405, USA

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BMC Clinical Pathology 2003, 3:2  doi:10.1186/1472-6890-3-2

Published: 11 June 2003



Over the past five years in situ hybridization techniques employing tyramide amplification reagents have been developed and promise the potential detection of low/single-copy nucleic acid sequences. However the increased sensitivity that tyramide amplification brings about may also lead to problems of background staining that confound data interpretation.


In this study those factors enabling background-free biotinyl-tyramide based in situ hybridization assay of formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissues have been examined. SiHa, HeLa and CaSki cell lines known to contain HPV integrated into the cell genome, and archival cervical pre-invasive lesions and carcinomas have been successfully assessed using biotinylated HPV and centromeric probes.


The single most important factor both for sensitivity and clean background was a tissue unmasking regimen that included treatment with 10 mM sodium citrate pH 6.0 at 95°C followed by digestion with pepsin/0.2 M HCl. Concentrations both of probe and primary streptavidin-peroxidase conjugate and pH of hybridization mix and stringency washes were also critical for sensitivity. Certain probes were more associated with background staining than others. This problem was not related to probe purity or size. In these instances composition of hybridization mix solution was especially critical to avoid background. 3-amino-9-ethylcarbazole was preferred over 3,3'-diaminobenzidene as a chromogen because background was cleaner and the 1–2 copies of HPV16 integrated in SiHa cells were readily demonstrable. HPV detection on metaphase spreads prepared from SiHa cells was only successful when a fluorescent detection method was combined with tyramide reagent. 'Punctate' and 'diffuse' signal patterns were identified amongst tissues consistent with the former representing integration and 'diffuse' representing episomal HPV. Only punctate signals were detected amongst the cell lines and were common amongst high-grade pre-invasive lesions and carcinomas. However it remains to be determined why single/low-copy episomal HPV in basal/parabasal cells of low-grade lesions is not also detectable using tyramide-based techniques and whether every punctate signal represents integration.


A tyramide-based in situ hybridization methodology has been established that enables sensitive, background-free assay of clinical specimens. As punctate signals characterize HPV in high-grade cervical lesions the method may have potential for clinical applications.