In this study, the sensitivity of the aurine tricarboxylic acid (ATA) and acid solochrome azurine (ASA) stain for aluminum were compared under special consideration of the relationship to bone histology in renal osteodystrophy. Al deposition in iliac crest bone biopsies taken from 78 patients with chronic renal failure (CRF) was assessed histochemically using the ATA and ASA stain; the Al accumulation was correlated with bone histology and histomorphometry. Significantly more Al was detectable with the ASA method on trabecular bone surfaces and cement lines (18 +/- 20% vs 4 +/- 12% on surfaces; 13 +/- 18% vs 0.4 +/- 1.3% on cement lines). In 31 cases in which ATA yielded negative results, ASA in contrast indicated Al deposits on up to 20% of the trabecular bone surface. The specimens with more Al on the trabecular bone surface had a significantly higher osteoid volume and osteoid surface. With ATA, these differences were observed at a staining of > or = 10% of the trabecular surface, with ASA at a staining of > or = 40% of the trabecular surface. Therefore, it seems to be possible to detect a very low Al deposition, without any Al-induced changes in bone morphology or signs of Al toxicity in the bone using the ASA method. By contrast, a positive ATA stain is mainly found in biopsies with typical signs of Al-induced changes of histomorphometric bone parameters. We, therefore, recommend the routine use of the ASA stain to detect Al deposition in bone.