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The Computer Assisted Stereological Toolbox

CAST is a Computer Assisted Stereological Toolbox for PCs running Microsoft® WindowsTM. CAST is an interactive, user-friendly, data collection program to be used for obtaining efficient and unbiased estimates of cell number, cell density, cell size and all other stereological quantities in 2-D and 3-D. CAST supports several sampling schemes and includes numerous grid types and all known unbiased estimators.

uniform random array of points which are strictly systematic in the array and the whole array is randomly positioned.e. Geometric probes Consider an object in a room filled with a systematic.Brief introduction to stereology In Greek “stereos” means bodily or spatial (3-D). the larger the volume of the object the greater the probability of a point hitting it and the more points will fall inside it. It is of tremendous practical importance that the sampling is random at all levels. If the volume associated with each point is known 2 . In stereology. Sampling In order to apply the geometrical probes used in stereology on an object of interest. or the sampling probability must be known exactly and be greater than zero for each and every sampling item. more sophisticated methods are necessary for computing estimator precision. uniform random sampling is almost always performed. volume. In systematic uniform sampling. number and connectivity. must be random. takes the first sampling item at random in the first interval. surface area. ALL of sampling theory boils down to two possibilities for “correct” or unbiased sampling: either sampling is uniformly random in the complete organ (in which case the actual sampling probability may be unknown). efficient and unbiased methods for quantitation of three-dimensional geometric characteristics of objects e.g. The number of points which fall inside the object is proportional to the volume. i. one decides on a sampling interval. such as disectors. the sampling must be randomized in order to give every item of a population the same chance of being sampled. In systematic sampling. In stereology systematic. Stereology is a set of simple. including the very first step of taking blocks and/or sections from an organ. planes. To get an unbiased opinion. Despite common belief. and all the following sampling items at a fixed distance (the interval) to the previous one. It is important to realize that a well-planned sampling design will often be the critical element in deciding if an experiment is feasible. Both require some form of well-defined sampling followed by a question being put to the suitably sampled individual. the sampling scheme must be comprehensive enough to show how each item was sampled. the way in which the questions are asked is to “throw” geometric probes. simple uniform sampling the items must be independent). length. It is essential to understand that for the result to be unbiased both the sampling and the probing. Also. Systematic uniform sampling is used because it is very easy to perform and much more efficient than simple uniform random sampling. lines and points at the object and observe how the probe and the object interact. the sampling items (sections or fields of vision) are dependent (in all ordinary. counting or measuring. This has the drawback that all ordinary static is invalid. Stereology can be compared to an opinion poll. it is a requirement that both the sampling and the question are unbiased.

These relationships are summarized in the following tables: Stereological probe Geometric characteristic of 3-D object Name Point Line Plane Disector Measure Number Length Area Volume Dimension 0 1 2 3 Name Volume Surface Curve Cardinality Measure Volume Area Length Number /Connectivity Dimension 3 2 1 0 From the tables a pattern emerges: the dimension of the probe plus the dimension of the geometric characteristic of the object equals 3 so that the geometrical characteristic which is being estimated is meaningful in 3-D space. but also most of the very potent cell size estimators require isotropy. in 3-D space. but require special test systems. hence its use to estimate volumes. Prime examples are estimators of surface area and length. all existing methods require that the tissue is given random orientation. Unbiased estimators of total volume. its length is represented by a number of profiles . if it is a very long object. there is fortunately a simpler and often better way. the object’s volume is represented by or is reduced to an area. and is a general requirement of all stereological methods. A random test line will hit an object’s surface with a probability proportional to the object’s surface and a section will contain an object’s profile with a probability related to the object’s length or mean height. namely to rotate the organ or block of tissue around a single. for sampling to be unbiased. The purpose of choosing a uniform random start is to give all parts of the object an equal probability of being sampled. Notice that in moving from a 3-D object to a set of 2-D sections. i. Sampling and estimation: Dimensions A random test point will fall inside an object with a probability proportional to the object’s volume.then an estimate of the volume of the object is simply the number of points falling inside the object multiplied by the volume associated with each point. number and connectivity do not require isotropy. Besides simply rotating the organ or the block of tissue randomly before sectioning. In order to fulfill these requirements.see the figure below. all of which are implemented in the CAST software. called isotropy. the so called uniform vertical design. its surface to a boundary and. identifiable axis of the experimenter’s own choice. For a number of important estimators it is equally important that the 3-D structure or the probes have systematic. provided that the initial position of the regular array of points was randomized. volume area surface boundary length a number of profiles Orientation of tissue The above deals with the random position of all probes. These are the principal relations when estimates are obtained by counting events.e. which is called IUR sampling. Vertical designs most often allow identification of important layers and regions on the proper sections. 3 . uniform random orientation.

surface area. With the use of a software controllable specimen stage. mostly global stereology has been a valuable tool in biology. metals and rocks. given a certain area with objects to be sampled. number and connectivity. The two trunks branch off into various geometric quantities one may estimate: volume. i. length. Conventional methods require that the investigator keeps track of the current position in the microscope slide along with counting with grids or using the estimators. Sampling using CAST When using the grids or the local estimators of the CAST software.“N ew ” Gokhale’s cycloids Counting Frame al” r Ste ” eo Cycloids s Cla sic log y y Lines Global Spatial Sampling “ “N ew r Ste eo log Surface Area Cavalieri’s Principle Points Volume Length Giger’s Counting Rule Counting Frame The stereological estimators Stereology may be thought of as a tree with two main trunks: global and local estimators. Collectively. material sciences and in geology for estimating compositions of organs. these estimators are now known as “classical” stereology.e. mostly developed by a group of Danish stereologists with Professor Hans Jørgen Gundersen. cells. The Spatial Rotator local estimators are used to estimate geo3-D Nucleator metric quantities of individual “small” structures. one therefore often has free-of-charge access to important information about the size distribution 2-D Nucleator of these cells. e. entire organs and regions therein. In 1984 a new estimator named the “disector” was published. Optical Rotator Spatial Distribution Surfactor 2-D Nucleator Local Length Estimator For decades. As an extra benefit.g. it is possible to merely enter the outline of the area to be investigated and the desired number of sampling steps and leave the sampling procedure to the software. This was the starting signal for a long line of new estimators tuned to the estimation of 3-D characteristics in biological materials. Spatial Distribution Optical Fractionator GLOBAL Meander Delineation 3-D Nucleator Number/ Connectivity Optical Disector Optical Rotator Planar Rotator PSI Physical Disector Y G LO O RE E ST LO CA L Number/ Connectivity Length Volume Surface Area Turbular Diameter Boundary The global estimators are used to estimate geometric quantities of “large” structures. That is. 4 . every object must have an equal probability of being sampled. In the CAST software this sampling procedure is called “meander sampling”. it is usually required that the objects under investigation are sampled in an uniform fashion. The collective name for these estimators is “new” stereology.

and y-step lengths or sampling fraction. After delineation and input of the approximate number of sampling steps. a random position inside the area of interest is chosen by the investigator. Meander sampling window with navigator showing sampling progress Probing using CAST The CAST software allows for numerous grid types to be superimposed onto the video image for the purpose of collecting data for the global estimators. counting frames. While sampling is in progress. the information they carry and their purpose is: Points Information: Purpose: Area/unit. Multiple inclusion and exclusion areas can be delineated. line segments. Used for the same purpose as . The composition of the grids is completely controlled through a setup dialog. volume fractions and total volume (using Cavalieri’s principle). step size or sampling fraction.point grid in situations where different objects are counted at different grid densities. but their size is controlled from the grid’s dialog box. sampling (and probing) is often performed at a higher magnification. area/point.Meander sampling When using meander sampling the area under investigation is delineated at a low magnification. Movements to other sampling positions are done by pressing the arrow keys. encircled points. cycloids and lines. Test system setup dialog Global estimators Most of the global estimators use grids for the collection of the data needed for the estimates. sampling may be done using the X-Y stepper instead of meander sampling. a map of the delineated areas and the sampling positions therein may be displayed. 5 . control the sampling interface (orientation of counting regions and intersection lines) themselves. The relevant grid types. After defining the x. area/point. Estimation of profile area. The local estimators are performed using functions that. X-Y stepper In situations where the area of interest is easily recognized at any power of magnification.and in conjunction with . secondary frames. Integrated point sets Information: Purpose: Area/unit. in addition. The following grid types are used for the global estimators: points. The lines. spatial distribution and guard area grid types are used for the local estimators.

Line segments Information: Purpose: Area/point. Estimation of surface area on vertical sections along with volume fractions using the point sets at the end of the cycloids. area/frame. The disector 3-D counting rule: A particle is counted (sampled) if it appears in the sampling frame in the lower reference section. • Profiles that touch the exclusion lines (red lines) or their extensions are not counted. Lines Information: Purpose: Area/point.e. length/cycloid. containing a sampling (counting) frame. The sampling volume is the area of the frame multiplied by the distance between the upper surfaces of the two sections. Counting frames Information: Purpose: Area/unit. there are two alternatives to point counting. i. using a sampling volume. its profile does not touch any of the exclusion lines. area/frame. Selection of profiles for measurements using the local 2-D area or 3-D volume estimators. For the purpose of estimating the total volume of an object using Cavalieri’s principle. length/unit. length/point. it can only be sampled and estimated unbiasedly in 3-D probes. The first is to use the 2-D nucleator function. Counting of profiles for length density of tubules. area/unit. Estimation of profile boundary length. and it does not appear in the upper section at all. • Profiles that touch only the inclusion lines (green lines) are counted. Same as . Estimation of surface density on vertical or IUR sections and local volume using PSI.and in combination with -– counting frame but in situations where sets of objects with different numerical densities are counted or sampled at different fractions of the screen area. Since number is a zero-dimensional structural characteristic. shape factor and surface area on IUR sections along with profile area and volume fractions on vertical and IUR sections using the two point sets at the ends of line segments. the second is to delineate the area to be estimated. Cycloids Information: Purpose: Area/cycloid. fibres and capillaries. Secondary counting frames Information: Purpose: Area/unit. 6 . length/point. The counting (sampling) rules associated with the counting frame are: • Every profile completely inside the frame is counted. The disector The disector is a simple and unbiased 3-D probe for estimating number. Estimation of number in combination with the optical disector. Either function must be applied to each of the selected sections. Two sections are used to create the sampling volume with the lower reference section.

whereas the last two use spatial (3-D) information and are optimized for thick sections in which they give more accurate estimates than the planar estimators do. In a cell which is sampled using the disector. is indicated 7 . length estimator and number estimator. surface area estimators. The grids dialog box shown on the previous page allows for the definition of an additional grid type to be used by the local estimators: Spatial distribution Information: Purpose: The area of each of the four zones. The customized test system may be stored and later recalled in the CAST software. The figure below illustrates the rotator estimator in the version for IUR sections. this principle eliminates any risk that objects between the disector sections can be lost.g. Local estimators The selection of objects to be used for local volume estimation is most often done by using meander sampling and counting frames or optical disectors. the nucleolus. e. a unique point. First the top and the bottom of the disector are determined. The CAST software currently supports local volume estimators. PSI provides a volume-weighted volume estimate which has a very useful application in cancer diagnostics and objective cancer grading. a(1) through a(4). then sampling is performed by starting at the top and focusing towards the bottom while counting all new particles that come into focus in the section. This means that particles already in focus in the upper focal plane are not counted. The optical disector: various objects come into focus in the same field of view. Instead of studying the same section five times in order to estimate five interesting quantities. Estimation of the spatial distribution. the two sections of the disector can be contained in a single slide. reference focal plane are counted. one studies the section once using the test system composed by the user for this particular purpose.100 µm) sections. Integration of the geometric probes It is a most useful feature of the CAST software that all the geometric probes and the grids may be combined or integrated (that is why they are strictly organized in tessellations of so-called units). This is analogous to the concept of inclusion/exclusion lines in the counting frame. which are all available in versions for either vertical or IUR sections.The optical disector The optical disector is a very efficient method for implementing the disector principle. are: • • • • • Point Sampled Intercept (PSI) 3-D Nucleator Planar Rotator Optical Rotator Spatial Rotator The first three calculate the estimates based on planar (2-D) information and can thus be used on thin as well as thick sections. By using a lens with a short focal depth (high numerical aperture) on thick (~25 . The volume estimators. while particles in focus in the lower. attraction/repulsion of cells. Furthermore. The rotator estimators are usually the most efficient individual cell volume estimators.

Counting of numerous different cell types or occurrences is easily handled by the use of a counting tool dialog box and the numeric keypad.com Website: olympusamerica.com/microscopes . by the mouse. Printed in Germany · CASTGRID-01/03 Olympus America Inc. Rotator Simple 2-D measurements The CAST software allows for a few simple 2-D measurements on objects seen on the screen.O. NY 11747-9058 Toll-free: 1-800-446-5967 Fax: 631-844-5112 Email: microscopy@olympus. Scientific Equipment Group Two Corporate Center Drive P. These are: distance. Finally the volume estimate is calculated by the software. The area estimators are: • 2-D nucleator for 2-D areas • Optical rotator for 3-D surface areas The 2-D nucleator operates on planar information. Box 9058 Melville. CAST can work with multiple images. boundary as well as area and are carried out by drawing. either free-hand or in steps. Three lines will randomly be placed through the cell and the user must now enter the intersections between these lines and the border of the cell being examined. Additional features in CAST CAST allows for acquired data to be logged for subsequent processing in spreadsheets. whereas the optical rotator operates on spatial information.by the user. Images can be saved and loaded thus allowing for images from alternative sources (CT scanners and electron microscopes) to be analyzed. CAST has the physical disector – split screen disector – as standard in its software packages.

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