Acid Fast Stain

The acid-fast stain is a differential stain used to identify acid-fast organisms such as members of the genus Mycobacterium

Acid-fast organisms are characterized by wax-like, nearly impermeable cell walls; they contain mycolic acid and large amounts of fatty acids, waxes, and complex lipids.  Acid-fast organisms are highly resistant to disinfectants and dry conditions.

Because the cell wall is so resistant to most compounds, acid-fast organisms require a special staining technique.  The primary stain used in acid-fast staining, carbolfuchsin, is lipid-soluble and contains phenol, which helps the stain penetrate the cell wall.  This is further assisted by the addition of heat.  The smear is then rinsed with a very strong decolorizer, which strips the stain from all non-acid-fast cells but does not permeate the cell wall of acid-fast organisms. The decolorized non-acid-fast cells then take up the counterstain.

In our lab, we use the Ziehl-Neelsen method but not the Kinyoun method.

The staining procedure is here.