A review of state-of-the-art stereology for better quantitative 3D morphology in cardiac research.
The aim of stereological methods in biomedical research is to obtain quantitative information about three-dimensional (3D) features of tissues, cells, or organelles from two-dimensional physical or optical sections. With immunogold labeling, stereology can even be used for the quantitative analysis of the distribution of molecules within tissues and cells. Nowadays, a large number of design-based stereological methods offer an efficient quantitative approach to intriguing questions in cardiac research, such as "Is there a significant loss of cardiomyocytes during progression from ventricular hypertrophy to heart failure?" or "Does a specific treatment reduce the degree of fibrosis in the heart?" Nevertheless, the use of stereological methods in cardiac research is rare. The present review article demonstrates how some of the potential pitfalls in quantitative microscopy may be avoided. To this end, we outline the concepts of design-based stereology and illustrate their practical applications to a wide range of biological questions in cardiac research. We hope that the present article will stimulate researchers in cardiac research to incorporate design-based stereology into their study designs, thus promoting an unbiased quantitative 3D microscopy.