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An experimental method for testing novel retinal vital stains

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Timothy L Jackson, Lewis Griffin, Brendan Vote, Jost Hillenkamp, John Marshall

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)446 - 454
Number of pages9
JournalExperimental Eye Research
Issue number4
PublishedOct 2005

King's Authors


There is uncertainty surrounding the safety of the vital stains currently used to assist macular surgery, and there may be other agents that are more suitable. This study aimed to validate a method of screening retinal vital stains for their potential surgical utility. Bovine retina was exposed to test agents at a range of concentrations. Masked observers determined the minimum dye concentration that reliably stained the retina, defined as the minimum visible concentration (MVC). Computer image analysis (CIE94 colour difference equation) was used to estimate the magnitude of the colour difference between stained and unstained retina. Agents that had favourable staining characteristics underwent safety testing using a retinal pigment epithelium and glial cell culture model. Cells were exposed to each agent and viability was assessed with a mitochondrial enzyme (MTT) assay, and fluorescent live-dead probe (ethidium homodimer-1/calcein-AM). Frozen sections were used to determine which retinal layers were stained. Techniques were tested on the following agents: alcian blue; diethyloxadicarbocyanine; Evan's blue; fast green; fluorescein; Janus green; methylene blue; naphthol green; neutral red; procian (reactive) yellow; rose bengal; and trypan blue. For most dyes, the results of image analysis showed that colour differences increased linearly with dye concentration, although some displayed a more exponential relationship. Five agents showed favourable staining characteristics: Evan's blue, rose bengal, naphthol green, neutral red, and trypan blue (MVC 0.02, 0.01, 0.1, 0.002, 0.01%, respectively). Safety testing of these five agents did not show toxicity, except in glial cells exposed to rose bengal. Relative to the negative control (saline), these showed a 48% reduction in viability using the MTT assay (p<0.001; t=4.71; CI 30-75%), and qualitative damage on fluorescence microscopy. Frozen sections showed that some agents produced diffuse staining of all retinal layers, others produced selective inner retinal staining. There are thousands of biological stains available and many of these may be more effective or safer than those currently used for retinal surgery. This study provides a means of screening potentially useful vital stains.

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