Histology Exam Essay Questions

Extra Study Questions by Lecture

The following study questions organized by lecture topic should help you focus on the most important material as you prepare for exams.


  1. Make a table of all blood cell types with the following columns: major functions, size, origin, normal cell count in peripheral blood film.
  2. Be able to recognize all blood cell types in light micrographs of a standard blood smear.
  3. Review clinical correlations from lecture and textbook for RBCs: sickle cell disease, hereditary spherocytosis.
  4. Review clinical correlations lecture and textbook for granulocytes: neutrophils (deficiency of NADPH oxidase), eosinophils (eosinophilia - allergic reactions, helminthic infections).
  5. Understand origin and function of platelets.
  6. Review the clinical cases covered in the lab small group meetings:
    • Hereditary Spherocytosis
    • Iron Deficiency Anemia
    • Megaloblastic Anemia (Pernicious Anemia)
    • Infectious Mononucleosis
    • Immune Thrombocytopenia Purpura

Cells & Organelles

  1. Review membrane structure/function: fluid mosaic model, membrane proteins, glycocaylx, cell signaling (G-protein coupled receptors, enzyme-linked receptors), Golgi apparatus, endocytosis, clathrin, LDL receptors, exocytosis, RER, signal hypothesis, SER, endosomes, lysosomes (clinical correlations: lysosomal storage diseases), mitochondria: components/function of matrix, inner membrane & outer membdrane (clinical correlations: mitochondrial diseases).
  2. Cytoskeleton: actin, microtubules, intermediate filaments - basic facts, including dimensions, subunits, properties. Motors: dynein, kinesin and myosin - what each motor moves on, and in which direction? Which motor(s) give rise to ciliary/flagellar movement? Which motor(s) move vesicles anterograde vs. retrograde along the axon (and what properties of the axonal microtubules makes this possible? Understand the kinetic barrier to nucleation of actin filaments and microtubules, and how this relates to the function of nucleation factors such as and Arp2,3 and gamma-tubulin. Where are these nucleation factors located? What is "dynamic instability" of microtubules, and what role does this property play in mitotic spindle formation? Why do anti-microtubule drugs like taxol or colchicine lead to the arrest of the cell cycle? Understand the basic combination of signaling and cytoskeletal rearrangements that are behind the chemotaxis of a neutrophil toward a bacterium. Know the structure/function of basal bodies and centrioles. Can you recognize a basal body/centriole in a high-magnification TEM? Can you recognize a flagellar axoneme in a high-magnification TEM - including outer doublets, dynein arms, radial spokes, and the central pair microtubules. Can you recognize collagen fibers, elastic fibers, microtubules, and intermediate filaments in high magnification TEMs? Review clinical correlation for intermediate filaments: Epidermolysis bullosa simplex. Review clinical correlation for elastin: Marfans.
  3. Cell nucleus: basic structure/function of the nucleus, nuclear envelope, nucleolus, nuclear pores, chromatin, nucleosomes, histones. Do you know what a Barr body is and could you recognize one if it was visible within a in a peripheral blood smear (textbook figure 3-3, page 79)? Understand basic facts of the cell cycle and concept of "check points". Review major differences between necrotic cell death and programmed cell death (apoptosis). Can you recognize nuclear pores in high magnification TEMs? Can you recognize the nucleolus in LMs and TEMS? Do you know the difference in the appearance and function of euchromatin and heterochromatin?


  1. Make a table of the different types of epithelium with columns: appearance (in LM & TEM), major functional characteristics, locations.
  2. Make a table of the different types of cell-cell and cell-basal lamina junctions with columns: appearance in TEM, location in the cell, major functions, location in the cell, molecular components (membrane protein(s) & key cytoskeletal and linker proteins, if appropriate.
  3. Review structure/function of basal lamina, including the role of type IV collagen. Could you recognize a basal lamina in a TEM showing an epithelium and underlying connective tissue? Which cells make the basal lamina, is it the epithelial cells or the fibroblasts? How do cells bind to the basal lamina? Can binding to the basal lamina affect a cell's growth?
  4. What is the lamina propria and what are its major functions with regard to epithelia?
  5. Understand the epithelial nature of glands and the difference in the origin/development of exocrine and endocrine glands.
  6. Understand the structure/function of striated ducts.
  7. Review myoepithelial cells: location/function/appearance in LM.
  8. Know differences between merocrine, apocrine & holocrine secretion.
  9. Review the clinical cases covered in the lab small group meetings:
    • Brenner Tumor
    • Cystic Teratoma
    • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Lung
    • Reflux Esophagitis
    • Barrett's Esophagus

Connective Tissue

  1. Make a table of all cell types with columns: appearance (in LM & TEM), normal location, major function, origin.
  2. Make a table of all extracellular components (including fibers) with columns: function, major molecular components, origin (made by which cells).
  3. Understand the difference between dense and loose connective tissue, and know where each can be found.
  4. Review clinical correlations for collagen (Ehlers-Danlos) and elastin (Marfan syndrome).
  5. Understand the steps in type I collagen synthesis as presented in figure 6.8 of the textbook (page 167): what is the purpose of each step?
  6. Understand the differences between types I, II, III and IV collagen. What structures do these different collagens make? Where are they found? Do they all make filaments? (Table 6.2 of textbook)
  7. Understand the basic difference between glycoproteins (e.g laminin, fibronectin) and proteoglycans (e.g. aggecan), and understand their general functions.
  8. Understand how cells use integrin to bind to the extracellular matrix, thus linking the extracellular matrix to the actin cytoskeleton (Fig 5.34, page 134).

Adipose Tissue

  1. Know the major functional and structural differences between unilocular and mulitlocular apipose tissue.
  2. What are the major functions of unilocular fat cells (i.e., energy storage, insulation, cushioning/shock absorbers).
  3. What is the major function of multilocular fat? Why is multilocular fat brown in color? What is the function of thermogenin and why is it in the mitochondria of brown fat?


  1. Make a table listing the similarities/differences for the three major types of muscle: skeletal, cardiac, and smooth.
    For example:
    • Which have striations?
    • Are there differences in how contraction is regulated, and if so, what are the differences?
    • Which types of muscle fibers are formed by the fusion of myoblasts?
    • Which types of muscle cells have T-tubules and triads? What do these structure do? Where are they located (i.e., at what level of the sarcomere)?
    • Which have a sarcoplasmic reticulum?
    • Where are the nuclei located within the cells?
    • Do all three types have dense bodies (what are dense bodies)?
    • Do all three types have intercalated discs? What are intercalated discs? What are the major components/functions of the transverse and longitudinal subdomains of the intercalated disc?
    • Which type of muscle cell can produce collagen fibers and ground substance, functions in common with fibroblasts?
  2. Understand sacromere structure as it relates to function:
    For example:
    • Which of the "bands" within the sarcomere change dimension as muscle contracts or relaxes? Which don't change? Can you explain why in each case?
    • Which proteins would you expect to find in the sarcomere, and where would these proteins be located: actin, myosin, tropomyosin, troponin, alpha-actinin, nubulin, titin.
    • What would the arrangements of filaments be in TEM cross sections taken at different levels of the sarcomere? For example, what would you expect to see in a section though the H-zone? the I band?
  3. Know the basic differences (in form and function) between type I, type II, and intermediate skeletal muscle fibers. What determines fiber type, and what type of experiment demonstrates this?
  4. Understand the concept of the motor unit.
  5. Know the basic structure/function of muscle spindles. Why does the spindle have both afferent and efferent innervation?
  6. Understand the basic conduction system of the heart. What are Purkinje fibers, where are they located, what do they look like, and what do they do?
  7. What is "age pigment" and why is it often found in cardiac muscle cells?

Cardiovascular System

  1. Understand the basic architecture of blood vessels, i.e, the structure/function of each of the three tunics (learn the tunic names).
  2. How you would identify each of the following vessel types in the microscope (i.e. what are the critical morphological criteria that you would use)?
    Capillaries, arterioles, venules, small and large muscular arteries, veins, large elastic arteries, high endothelial cell postcapilary venules, lymphatic capillaries.
  3. What are the different types of capillaries? Can you give an example where each type is found in the body? Why are they found there (i.e. functional explanation)? For example, brain has continuous capillaries with well-developed tight junctions. This helps maintain the blood-brain barrier.
  4. Understand the structure and function of vasa vasorem.
  5. Understand the structure and function of the nervous supply of blood vessels.
  6. Review the clinical cases covered in the lab small group meetings:
    • Atherosclerosis
    • Hypertension (hyaline and hyperplastic arteriolosclerosis)
    • Myocardial Infarction (different timepoints)
    • Infective Endocardititis (Acute)
    • Lymphocytic Myocarditis

Lymphoid Tissue

  1. Differences between innate and adaptive immunity. Which cells are involved?
  2. What is central lymphoid tissue? What are its functions?
  3. What is peripheral lymphoid tissue? What are its functions?
  4. What is a lymphoid nodule/follicle? Know all the places that they can be found - i.e. GALT, MALT, lymph nodes, spleen. What is a follicular dendritic cell?
  5. What is the role of the fibroblast-like reticular cells and the reticular fibers (type III collagen) that they produce within peripheral lymphoid tissue?
  6. Know the different "professional" antigen presenting cells. What key functions/properties do these cells have that permits them to play a central role in adaptive immune responses?
  7. What are the different "effector" T cells, i.e. what do CD8-expressing effector T cells do? What do CD4 effector T cells do (remember both classes of CD4 helper cells).
  8. How does a B cell become activated? Remember the role of CD4 helper T cells. How do lymph nodes promote the (appropriate) activation of B cells?
  9. What are the MHC class I and II proteins? What do they do? Which cells express MHC class I? Which cells express MHC Class II?
  10. How do most lymphocytes enter the lymph node? How do most lymphocytes exit the lymph node? How do activated dendritic cells enter the lymph node?
  11. Where are most B cells located in the lymph node? Where are most T cells located in the lymph node? What is a germinal center and how do you recognize it in a histological section?
  12. Understand the organization of the medulla of the lymph node: what are the cords and sinuses? Where would you expect to find most of the plasma cells in a lymph node?
  13. Trace the route of a red blood cell as it flows through the spleen: trabecular artery, central artery, etc.
  14. What is the PALS?
  15. What is the organization of the splenic white pulp? What is the organization of the splenic red pulp? What kinds of cells are in the cords of the red pulp?
  16. What type of tissue composes the capsule and trabeculae of the spleen?
  17. Understand "thymic education" including the roles of both positive and negative selection. What happens to most T lymphocytes born in the thymus?
  18. Which cells first present "self" peptides (complexed with MHC class I) to T cells within the cortex of the thymus? What is the embryonic origin of these cells? Do you expect to find type III collagen fibers in the thymus?
  19. What is the blood thymus barrier (structure and function)? What does a Hassels corpuscle look like? Where would you find one?
  20. Where are B cells "educated"?
  21. Why is it so important the lymhoctyes constantly circulate throughout the lymphoid tissues of the body - remember to consider the concept of clonal expansion in your explanation.
  22. Review the clinical cases covered in the lab small group meetings:
    • Follicular Lymphoma
    • Hodgkin Lymphoma

Skin and its Derivatives

  1. Understand the basic structure of skin: epidermis (epithelium) & dermis (connective tissue).
  2. Review basic functions of skin: protection, sensation, excretion, thermoregulation, maintenance of water balance. Which structures accomplish each of these functions?
  3. Review major cell types of skin: keratinocyte, melanocyte, langerhans cell, merkel cell. Where are each of these cell types located? What do they do?
  4. Review the different layers of the epidermis: germinativum, spinosum, granulosum, lucidum, corneum. Where is each located? What does each look like? Where would you expect to find mitotic figures and why? Which cells have keratohyalin granules and keratinosomes? What do these granules contain? Are the cells of every layer nucleated?
  5. What is an epidermal-melanin unit? What is the fate of melanin granules made by melanocytes? What is the function of these melanosomes? What is the major precursor of melanin pigment?
  6. Can you recognize eccrine sweat glands, sebaceous glands, hair follicles, arrector pilli muscles in the light microscope?
  7. Review the clinical cases covered in the lab small group meetings:
    • Actinic Keratosis
    • Basal Cell Carcinoma
    • Dysplastic Nevus Syndrome

Respiratory System

  1. Review major functions of the respiratory system: conduction, conditioning & exchange. What structures help accomplish each of these functions and how do they do this?
  2. Conduction: review structure/function of nasal cavity, oral cavity, nasopharynx, oropharynx, larynx, trachea, bronchi, bronchioles, terminal bronchioles. What are the choncae in the nasal cavity, and what is their function?
  3. What is the structure/function of the olfactory epithelium: sustentacular cells, bipolar neurons, basal cells, ducts of bowman's glands. Can you recognize the olfactory epithelium in the LM?
  4. Can you recognize the vocal cords and the associated vocalis muscle (what type of muscle is this)?
  5. What is "respiratory epithelium"? Can you recognize it in the LM and do you remember the different cell types it contains along with each of their functions: ciliated, goblet, brush, basal, small granule (aka argentaffin) cell. Review clinical correlation: Kartegener's syndrome - mutation causing loss of ciliary/flagellar dynein. What are the symptoms?
  6. How does the epithelial lining the conducting part of the respiratory system change as you approach the terminal broncioles? What are Clara cells?
  7. Exchange portion of the respiratory system: review the structure/function of respiratory bronchioles, alveolar ducts and alveoli.
  8. What are type I alveolar cells (aka type I pneumocytes)? What do they look like? Where are they located? What properties do they have that help them perform their major function?
  9. What are type II alveolar cells (aka type II pneumocytes)? What do they look like? Where are they located? What properties do they have that help them perform their major function? What is the function of respiratory surfactant? Review clinical correlation: infant respiratory distress.
  10. Can you recognize a capillary within an alveolar septum? Can you recognize an alveolar pore of Kohn?
  11. Review the blood-air barrier. Can you recognize each layer at high magnification in a TEM?
  12. Clinical correlation: review information about emphysema in lecture notes.
  13. Review the clinical cases covered in the lab small group meetings:
    • Emphysema
    • Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome
    • Asthma

Cartilage and Bone

  1. Review different types of cartilage (structure, functional properties, location): hyaline, elastic and fibro-cartilage.
  2. Review structure of articular cartilage. Does it have a perichondrium?
  3. What are the major components in the matrix of hyaline cartilage?
  4. How do hyaline and elastic cartilage differ?
  5. What is the major collagen present in the matrix of fibrocartilage? of hyaline cartilage?
  6. Is cartilage a highly vascular tissue? How do chondrocytes receive oxygen and nutrients?
  7. Can you recognize hyaline cartilage in the LM? Can you recognize the chondrocytes in the LM? What is the structure of the perichondrium and can you recognize it in the LM?
  8. Know the difference between compact (aka cortical) and trabecular (aka spongy, cancellous) bone.
  9. Review each of the following cell types: osteoblast, osteocyte, osteoclast, osteoprogenitor cell & bone lining cell. Can you recognize an ostoblast, osteocyte and osteoclast in the LM?
  10. What is the structure of the periosteum? Can you recognize periosteum in the LM?
  11. Review the osteon (haversian system): lamellae, lacunae, canaliculi, haversian canal. What is each structure, and can you recognize it in the LM? What are "interstitial" lamellae and how do they relate to the continuous remodeling of bone?
  12. Review the role of parathyroid hormone in maintaining serum calcium levels. What effect does this hormone have on osteoblasts and osteoclasts?
  13. Review clinical correlation: osteoporosis. Estrogen normally promotes apoptosis of osctoclasts, so post-menopausal women have more osteoclasts, resulting in more bone resorption.
  14. Understand the differences between "intramembranous" and "endochondral" ossification.
  15. Review the clinical cases covered in the lab small group meetings:
    • Multiple Myeloma
    • Osteoporosis

Make sure to add the Histology-World testbank to your bookmarks so that you can come back before every histology exam. This histology test bank contains histology test questions sorted by topics within histology. Along with each histology question is a detailed explanation as to why the correct answer is correct, as well as information about the wrong answers. This section is useful for students prior to a histology wriitten exam. This histology test bank is also useful for the histology questions on the USMLE (USMLE step 1).

Microscopes test 1, test 2
Histology tests about the microscope

Histology Stains and Techniques test 1, test 2
Histology tests about histotechniques

Cells test 1, test 2, test 3
Histology tests about cells

Histology of Epithelium test 1, test 2, test 3, test 4
Histology tests about epithelium

Histology of Connective Tissue test 1, test 2, test 3, test 4
Histology tests about connective tissue

Histology of Cartilage test 1, test 2, test 3
Histology tests about cartilage

Histology of Bone test 1, test 2, test 3, test 4
Histology tests about bone

Histology of Muscle test 1, test 2, test 3, test 4, test 5, test 6
Histology tests about muscle

Histology of the Integumentary System test 1, test 2, test 3, test 4, test 5
Histology tests about the integumentary system

Histology of the GI System test 1, test 2, test 3, test 4, test 5
Histology tests about the gastrointestinal system

Histology of the Pancreas and Hepatobiliary System test 1, test 2, test 3
Histology tests about the hepatobiliary system

Histology of the Nervous System test 1, test 2, test 3, test 4, test 5, test 6
Histology tests about the nervous system

Histology of the Special Senses test 1, test 2, test 3, test 4, test 5, test 6
Histology tests about the special senses (eye and ear)

Histology of the Urinary System test 1, test 2, test 3
Histology tests about the urinary system

Histology of Blood test 1, test 2, test 3
Histology tests about blood

Histology of the Blood Vessels test 1, test 2, test 3, test 4
Histology tests about the blood vessels

Histology of the Cardiovascular System test 1
Histology tests about the cardiovascular system

Histology of the Lymphatic System test 1, test 2, test 3
Histology tests about the lymphatic system

Histology of the Respiratory System test 1, test 2, test 3, test 4
Histology tests about the respiratory system

Histology of the Endocrine System test 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
Histology tests about the endocrine system

Histology of the Male Reproductive System test 1, test 2, test 3
Histology tests about the male reproductive system

Histology of the Female Reproductive System test 1, test 2
Histology tests about the female reproductive system

If you have a comment about the test questions or explanations, please contact me, Sarah Bellham, at Sarah-AT-histology-world.com (replace "-AT-" with @) and let me know.


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