Application of ultrasound accelerates the decalcification process of bone matrix without affecting histological and immunohistochemical analysis

Dick H. Chow, Lizhen Zheng, Li Tian, Kam Sing Ho, Ling Qin, Xia Guo (Corresponding Author)

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Background/Objectives: Decalcification of bone specimens is necessary for routine paraffin embedding and sectioning. Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA), a chelating agent for decalcification, maintains bone tissue integrity and histological features but requires long decalcification period, especially for cortical bone with dense mineral matrix. We hypothesised that the application of a newly commercially available ultrasound (US) decalcifier would accelerate decalcification of thick cortical bone specimen in EDTA efficiently and that the working temperature at 30–45°C would not affect histological and immunohistochemical analysis. Comparison was made with traditional decalcification method with regards to quality of tissue morphology and antigenicity. Methods: A fresh human cadaveric femoral shaft was sectioned into 5-mm-thick transverse sections. After fixation, the bone slices were divided into two groups: Ultrasound decalcification group (US DeCal), in which bone sections (n = 3) were placed in a US decalcifier (50 W at a frequency of 40kHz) with EDTA solution, and normal decalcification group (Normal DeCal), in which bone sections (n = 3) were decalcified in EDTA without US. The mineral content of the bone sections was measured with micro-computed tomography and dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry at different time points. Rate of calcium extraction was quantified by measuring the calcium concentration in EDTA solution using inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry. After decalcification, the paraffin sections of the decalcified bone were stained with haematoxylin and eosin or immunohistochemical staining of sclerostin. Results: Samples in US DeCal contained 2.9 ± 2.8% of the mineral content at Day 6 and were completely decalcified at Day 8. However, sections in Normal DeCal retained 36.3 ± 5.1% and 24.3 ± 4.8% at Day 6 and Day 8, respectively, and took six times longer to complete decalcification. The concentration of calcium in the EDTA solution of the US DeCal group was 70% higher than that of the Normal DeCal group (p < 0.05) in Day 1 and 2. No staining difference was observed in histological sections between the two groups. Conclusion: The application of US decalcification significantly shortened the decalcification time in EDTA without causing histological artefacts. The translational potential of this article: This article shows that the application of ultrasound in sample decalcification would shorten the duration that decalcification required. This would accelerate the sample processing for routine bone histology in both basic and clinical research and assessments for diagnostic purposes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)112-120
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Orthopaedic Translation
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019


  • Bone histology
  • Bone histomorphometry
  • Decalcification
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Ultrasound

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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