Tsai, Mindy Department of Pathology, Stanford University, Stanford, California.
- Origin, development, and distribution
- Mast cell heterogeneity
- Mast cell activation
- Experimental approaches to study mast cell functions
- Therapeutic approaches targeting mast cells
- Links to Primary Literature
- Additional Readings
Specific immune cells best known for their role in allergic disorders and anaphylactic (acute allergic or hypersensitive) reactions, but now also considered as the sentinel cells that promote body defense to combat parasite and bacteria infection. Mast cells provide an abundant source of chemical mediators, cytokines (peptides released by some cells that affect the behavior of other cells, serving as intercellular signals), and growth factors, and can respond to many immunological and nonimmunological stimuli. These cells are thought to participate in many other inflammatory and pathological processes, such as arthritis, autoimmune diseases, fibrosis, angiogenesis, carcinogenesis, and inflammatory bowel disease, and in the regulation of cardiovascular function, because increases in mast cell numbers and/or morphologic evidence of mast cell activation are frequently detected in such conditions. Among the mediators produced by mast cells, some are proinflammatory and can help to recruit and activate other immune cells to sites of reactions, whereas others are immunomodulatory and can dampen the reactions by suppressing the activities of other cells. Recently, it has been shown that mast cell–derived enzymes can degrade harmful biological molecules or external toxins. These findings reveal the two “faces” of mast cells, which not only aggravate allergy and other immunological disorders, but are also critical for host defense against pathogens and for maintaining tissue homeostasis. See also: Allergy; Anaphylaxis; Cytokine; Immunology
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