University of Michigan Medical School Logo

Through the Looking Glass - From Stem Cells to Tissues and Organs

Learning Resources The University of Michigan Medical School

Course Introduction

General Information

By the end of the year, we hope that you have acquired a reasonable working knowledge of:

  1. how cells associate to perform the functions for which they are specialized, and
  2. how organized groups of cells (tissues) are arranged to form the organ systems of the body.

While the emphasis in histology is on the structure of cells, tissues and organs, structure has very little meaning without understanding the function, much of which is also presented in the other components of the curriculum. There is an emphasis to teach comparable subjects at about the same time, and we ask that you try and correlate structure and function. Most diseases cause structural abnormalities that result in the problems with which you, as a physician, must contend. One reason for studying histology (the normal structure) is so that you can better understand a pathological (abnormal) change and the consequences of that change.

You will be spending most of your time studying two dimensional sections of three dimensional structures, and will encounter a number of atypical perspectives caused by the plane of section (Imagine that you are sectioning an orange in sagittal, parasagittal, equatorial and diagonal planes. The appearance of the orange sections is quite different depending upon the plane of section--the same variation in appearance occurs in tissue and organs because of the angle of sectioning). Try to find a typical perspective for your introduction to a new tissue or organ (use your atlas as a guide). Then try to imagine what it would look like in three dimensions.

24 meetings of 2 contact hours, most lectures will be followed by a 30 to 45 minute lecture-style laboratory segment (adding up to 2 hours per session), which will use virtual microscopy for a practical demonstration of the material covered by the lecture and for a deeper understanding of the basic concepts. The course provides 4 contact hours per week and is offered for 4 credits.

The course will be directed by Drs. Michael Hortsch and Kate Barald. They will present most of the lectures listed above. In addition, other CDB faculty members, who also have many years of experience teaching histology, will deliver some of the organ-specific lectures.

Teaching Materials

You are expected to learn histology by studying the slides of tissues and organs (item C below) using virtual microscopy.

Required textbook: “Histology–A Text and Atlas” by Michael H. Ross and Wojciech Pawlina, 6th edition, 2010, Wolters Kluwer–Lippincott Williams & Williams.

Examinations And Grading

2 exams, one midterm and one final, and 6 quizzes will all be open book (the last subject before the midterm and final exam will not be covered by a quiz, but by the exams). Quizzes will cover the last two to four lectures, three to four questions per lecture (about 60-80 total quiz questions). Midterm and final exam will be about 44 questions each + 4 more difficult bonus questions. This will add up to a total of 140-160 questions + 8 more difficult bonus questions. Quizzes and exams will be open book. All questions will have a multiple-choice format and most will be image-based. Graduate students, who are taking the course as CDB550, will have an additional writing requirement:  To receive CDB550 credit, each student must formulate 2 sets of 5 multiple choice questions, each set covering the first half and the second half of the course respectively. Each question should have only one indisputably correct answer. Only one question in each set may be a true/false questions, all other question should have at least 4 possible answers. Only one question in each set may be a pure text question, all other questions should include and require an image (either light microscope, electron microscope or a drawing). Each of 5 questions in each set should represent a different lecture topic. Please submit your two sets of questions as a Word file to Daniel Treisman ( ) by the time of midterm and final exam respectively. Late submissions may result in a point reduction. Questions, which combine identification tasks with functional aspects of the cells and tissues involved will be rated higher than questions, which address only one aspect. Other important points will be clarity of the question posed, equal credibility of the different possible answers and the relevance and importance of the concept tested. For each question, include not only the correct answer, but also very short statement, why this is the correct answer (often one or two sentences will suffice).


Tuesday and Thursday 8 to 10 am in the Undergraduate Science Building (USB) Room 1230. For further information, please contact Dr. Hortsch at .


Please, consult your daily calendar for each lecture and laboratory hours. The lecture should serve as a study guide for each topic area. The lecture contents should also serve as a guide for the exam and quiz questions since lecturers formulate the majority of the questions. Most of the lecture slides (images) will be placed in the Histology resource pages on the web for you to view after lecture. It would be very useful to read the relevant text chapter before lecture.


Histology is one of the few basic science courses left in the curriculum with a regularly scheduled laboratory. This provides you with an opportunity for "active" independent learning and also for interaction with faculty. As you progress through the course, we would appreciate your comments regarding things that are unclear, or that are particularly helpful in the lab guide, as we revise it every year. Bring your histology atlas and computer to the lab. The teaching laboratories we use are also microbiology laboratories, so no eating or drinking in the labs. We plan to have the histology labs open 24-7, unless items disappear or there are other problems.

Problems and Administration

If you have a histology problem, see the faculty member responsible for your laboratory section or the course director. You can also email one of your lab teachers or Dr. Hortsch with Histology questions. A list of the course faculty with relevant information can be found in the Faculty Contact section of the course.

For website, server, or other technical problems please contact the LRC Help Desk

Introduction to the Lab

Electron Micrographs: Electron micrograph wall charts in the hall and digital EM images on the webpage are for the most part, micrographs provided by Dr. Johannes A. G. Rhodin, who also authored "An Atlas of Histology" (Oxford Press, 1974). Thus, many of the electron micrographs are also found in this atlas. However, Rhodin's atlas is out of print and not required. Remember that the material contained herein is copyrighted, and it is intended to be used by histology students only. Duplication or distribution is prohibited by federal law. More detailed comments on electron micrographs appear at the end of the Epithelia section (the first lesson in this laboratory guide).