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The induction of the proto-oncogene c-fos, and its phosphoprotein product Fos, has been extensively used to study the effects of light on the circadian pacemaker in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). Experimental approaches to the quantification of Fos induction have mainly been based on immunohistochemistry and subsequent measure of Fos immunoreactivity (IR) in sections of the SCN. In this study, the authors compare several methods of quantification using optical density image analysis or counts of Fos-IR labeled cells. To assess whether optical density measures using image analysis reflect the amount of Fos in brain tissue, the authors developed standards of known concentrations of Fos protein in an agar matrix. The agar standards were sectioned and treated simultaneously with sections of the SCN from animals exposed to different levels of irradiance. Optical density was found to be proportional to the quantity of Fos in the sections, indicating that this measure accurately reflects relative levels of Fos protein induction. Quantification by optical density analysis allows an objective measure in which the various parameters, conditions of illumination, and threshold can be maintained constant throughout the analysis. Counting cells by visual observation is more subjective because threshold values cannot be precisely defined and can vary according to the observer, illumination, degree of label, and other factors. In addition, cell counts involving direct visual observation, automated cell counts, or stereological methods do not take into account the difference in the density of label between cells, thus giving equal weight to lightly or densely stained cells. These measures are more or less weakly correlated with measures of optical density and thus do not accurately reflect the amount of bound Fos protein in the tissue sections. In contrast, labeled surface area as measured by image analysis shows a linear relationship with optical density. The main outcome of this study is that computer-assisted image analysis provides an accurate and rapid method to determine the relative amount of Fos protein in the SCN and the effects of light on intracellular signaling mechanisms involved in the circadian clock.

Original publication




Journal article


J Biol Rhythms

Publication Date





121 - 136


3,3'-Diaminobenzidine, Agar, Animals, Avidin, Biotin, Cell Count, Coloring Agents, Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted, Immunoenzyme Techniques, Immunohistochemistry, Male, Mice, Mice, Inbred C3H, Oncogene Proteins v-fos, Photic Stimulation, Reference Standards, Suprachiasmatic Nucleus, Surface Properties