Staining Proteins in Gels with Silver Nitrate Academic Article uri icon


  • INTRODUCTIONSilver staining is one of the commonly used procedures for visualizing proteins in acrylamide gels. All silver staining methods rely on the reduction of ionic to metallic silver to provide metallic silver images; the selective reduction at gel sites occupied by proteins compared to nonprotein sites is dependent on differences in the oxidation-reduction potentials at these sites. There are two broad methodologies for silver staining. One approach (nondiamine silver nitrate stains) uses silver nitrate as the silvering agent and formaldehyde in alkaline carbonate solution as the developing agent, whereas the other approach (diamine or ammoniacal stains) uses ammoniacal silver as the silvering agent and formaldehyde in dilute citric acid as the developing agent. Although protocols using ammoniacal silver are arguably more sensitive and give darker hues than those based on silver nitrate, they are more prone to negative staining, resulting in hollow or "doughnut" spots, give unacceptable backgrounds with tricine-based gel systems, and are not very robust because of their reliance on the ammonia-silver ratio. Additionally, ammoniacal silver staining is more sensitive for basic proteins but less so for very acidic proteins. This protocol describes a silver nitrate staining approach. Its sensitivity is in the low-nanogram range, which is 50-100 times more sensitive than classical Coomassie Blue staining, ~10 times better than colloidal Coomassie Blue staining, and at least twice as sensitive as the zinc/imidazole negative staining method.

publication date

  • July 2007