Cross-section of a nerve bundle of the soft tissue of the heart treated with a pentachrome stain.

Movat’s Pentachrome stain generates some of the most diverse results in histology. As the name suggests, the stain is a combination of five dyes, each with an affinity for a different tissue element; depending on the source and tissue constituents found in the tissue on the slide, the images produced by the pentachrome stain can vary wildly, from a complex interplay of yellow, black and red in cardiac specimens to a near-metallic gold and rose in cardiac nerves or the brilliant red and blue of intestinal tissue. Pathologists rely on pentachrome to reveal subtle, early changes of disease that can’t be seen
with the standard pink-purple combination of hematoxylin and eosin. Developed in 1955 by Canadian Henry Zoltan Movat (1923–1995)3 to distinguish elements of connective
tissue and modified in 1972 by H.K. Russell Jr.4 to shorten the staining time and improve reliability, pentachrome’s power lies in its ability to simultaneously highlight multiple subcellular elements, revealing changes of age, disease, and development. Today the pentachrome stain is commonly used by cardiac pathologists to see the relative proportions of normal and abnormal tissues in biopsy and autopsy samples. If you’ve ever pondered the deep philosophical question of what you’re made of, pentachrome has the answer: connective tissue, mostly

3 Movat, HZ (1955). “Demonstration of all connective tissue elements in a single section; pentachrome stains”. AMA Archives of Pathology. 60 (3): 289–95.
4 Russell Jr, HK (1972). “A modification of Movat’s pentachrome stain”. Archives of Pathology. 94 (2): 187–91.