How much is there really? Why stereology is essential in lung morphometry

Ewald R. Weibel, Connie C W Hsia, Matthias Ochs

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

216 Scopus citations


Quantitative data on lung structure are essential to set up structure-function models for assessing the functional performance of the lung or to make statistically valid comparisons in experimental morphology, physiology, or pathology. The methods of choice for microscopy-based lung morphometry are those of stereology, the science of quantitative characterization of irregular three-dimensional objects on the basis of measurements made on two-dimensional sections. From a practical perspective, stereology is an assumption-free set of methods of unbiased sampling with geometric probes, based on a solid mathematical foundation. Here, we discuss the pitfalls of lung morphometry and present solutions, from specimen preparation to the sampling scheme in multiple stages, for obtaining unbiased estimates of morphometric parameters such as volumes, surfaces, lengths, and numbers. This is demonstrated on various examples. Stereological methods are accurate, efficient, simple, and transparent; the precision of the estimates depends on the size and distribution of the sample. For obtaining quantitative data on lung structure at all microscopic levels, state-of-the-art stereology is the gold standard.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)459-467
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of applied physiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2007


  • Quantitative microscopy
  • Sampling
  • Structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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