Background: For many years the central focus of research into gastrointestinal hypersensitivity reactions has been the mast cell population of the intestinal lamina propria. Since bile is known to deliver immunological mediators to the gastrointestinal tract, the possibility arises that extra-intestinal populations of mast cells may also contribute to IgE-mediated intestinal damage.
Objectives: To characterize hepatic mast cells in the rat and to investigate the role of the hepatobiliary system in a model of IgE-mediated reactivity to dietary antigen.
Methods: Wistar rats were passively sensitized with monoclonal antidinitrophenyl (DNP) IgE antibodies, and were later challenged orogastrically with DNP-HSA. Additional animals were sensitized, then bile duct-cannulated prior to antigen challenge. At various time points, liver and intestinal samples were collected for histological examination, and bile was collected and assayed for histamine and TNFalpha.
Results: Hepatic mast cells display a mucosal mast cell-like phenotype, and are closely associated with the vessels of the portal triads. Orogastric antigen challenge led to a rapid and significant decline (P<0.0001) in detectable mast cells as a result of anaphylactic degranulation. The median number of granulated mast cells associated with each portal triad in liver sections declined from six per portal triad to one per portal triad post-antigen challenge. After 15 min, biliary histamine concentrations rose above background levels (P<0.01). TNFalpha was also detectable in the majority (4/6) of bile samples within 15 min of challenge. Histological examination of the gastrointestinal mucosa revealed disruption to the villous epithelium ranging from oedematous changes to gross destruction. Such damage was not seen in animals in which bile had been externally drained.
Conclusion: The data indicate that biliary products are major contributors to the gastrointestinal damage arising from IgE-mediated hypersensitivity reactions in the rat, and such hypersensitivity reactions may involve a population of mast cells which reside in the liver.