A systematic assessment of goblet cell sampling of the bulbar conjunctiva by impression cytology

Michael Doughty*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


The purpose of this study was to assess the apparent goblet cell density (GCD) from conjunctival impression cytology (CIC) samples in relation to the number of conjunctival cells collected onto the filters. CIC specimens were collected from the superior-temporal bulbar conjunctiva of 16 pigmented rabbits onto Biopore (Millicell-CM) membranes, fixed with buffered glutaraldehyde and stained with Giemsa. Different numbers of microscope fields of view in each of the specimens were imaged by light microscopy using a 20× magnification objective lens (200× final magnification), and the goblet cells marked and counted. The GCD values/sq. mm were calculated. The same conjunctival region of 3 other rabbits was also prepared for transmission electron microscopy (TEM) by fixation, in situ, with the same buffered glutaraldehyde. Mean values for GCD estimates were found to vary from 399 to 1576 cells/sq. mm, depending on the image sampling and analysis strategy chosen, with the lowest inter-sample variance of around 10% being found if a maximum goblet cell count was taken on substantially multilayered regions of the CIC specimens. Counts of the number of goblet cells per 1000 visible conjunctival epithelial cells yielded a value of close to 90 (range 36–151), with modest inter-sample variability of around 30%. A three or ten 200× microscope field and random sampling strategy yielded mean GCD values between 542 and 670 cells/sq. mm, but with very high intra- and inter-sample variance of at least 60% and sometimes higher than 100%. TEM confirmed the multilayered organization of the conjunctiva and the deeper lying goblet cells. The general use of a goblet cell count as an objective marker for conjunctival normality or health is likely to be highly variable unless a more specific strategy is adopted. Beyond providing details of exactly the counting strategy used, it would be very useful to provide full details of the actual microscope field size used as well as information on the intra-sample variability in goblet cell counts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-28
Number of pages13
JournalExperimental Eye Research
Early online date14 Apr 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2015


  • cell biology
  • goblet cell density
  • cytology


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