1.The observed thickness of the gastric mucus barrier varies widely, even appearing discontinuous, depending on the methods used. Here we describe the development and application of a modified periodic acid Schiff/Alcian Blue staining technique for use on cryostat sections of gastric mucosa. This technique for the first time enables the preservation and visualization of the full thickness of the adherent gastric mucus layer and the underlying mucosa.

2.In designing this novel method we have selected those procedures which would result in the least alteration to the mucus layer. The methods used were snap freezing, cryostat sectioning of the whole stomach followed by brief ethanol pretreatment (10 min in 100% ethanol), a prolonged staining with periodic acid Schiff/Alcian Blue (15 min and 2.5 h respectively), a gentle post-fixation (45 min paraformaldehyde vapour at 37 °C) and the use of a water-soluble mountant.

3.A continuous, adherent mucus layer was observed over the surface of the rat gastric mucosa (periodic acid Schiff/Alcian Blue stained) and human gastric antral biopsies (periodic acid Schiff stained). In the rat the mean (S.D.) mucus thickness measurements along the antrum to oesophageal axis (which was divided histologically into four regions, A to D) were: A, 166 (47) μm; B, 179 (48) μm; C, 184 (50) μm; D (the non-glandular stratified epithelium at the top of the stomach), Absent. In human gastric antral biopsies the mean (S.D.) mucus thickness was 144 (52) μm.

4.This new technique has enabled the visualization and precise measurement of thickness of the gastric mucus layer in rat and man. The adherent gastric mucus layer was observed to be continuous in the rat glandular stomach and human antrum. In validation experiments in rat the mean mucus thickness measurements were found to be twice those measured by conventional histological techniques, in which the mucus layer appeared discontinuous and patchy. However, they were within the range of thickness values seen in unfixed tissues and in the rat in vivo preparation.

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