Safranine fluorescent staining of wood cell walls.

Research paper by J J Bond, L L Donaldson, S S Hill, K K Hitchcock

Indexed on: 20 Sep '08Published on: 20 Sep '08Published in: Biotechnic & histochemistry : official publication of the Biological Stain Commission


Safranine is an azo dye commonly used for plant microscopy, especially as a stain for lignified tissues such as xylem. Safranine fluorescently labels the wood cell wall, producing green/yellow fluorescence in the secondary cell wall and red/orange fluorescence in the middle lamella (ML) region. We examined the fluorescence behavior of safranine under blue light excitation using a variety of wood- and fiber-based samples of known composition to interpret the observed color differentiation of different cell wall types. We also examined the basis for the differences in fluorescence emission using spectral confocal microscopy to examine lignin-rich and cellulose-rich cell walls including reaction wood and decayed wood compared to normal wood. Our results indicate that lignin-rich cell walls, such as the ML of tracheids, the secondary wall of compression wood tracheids, and wood decayed by brown rot, tend to fluoresce red or orange, while cellulose-rich cell walls such as resin canals, wood decayed by white rot, cotton fibers and the G-layer of tension wood fibers, tend to fluoresce green/yellow. This variation in fluorescence emission seems to be due to factors including an emission shift toward red wavelengths combined with dye quenching at shorter wavelengths in regions with high lignin content. Safranine fluorescence provides a useful way to differentiate lignin-rich and cellulose-rich cell walls without counterstaining as required for bright field microscopy.