Vagal influences over mast cells

Auton Neurosci. 2006 Apr 30;125(1-2):53-61. doi: 10.1016/j.autneu.2006.01.002. Epub 2006 Feb 24.


The established microanatomical association of rat intestinal mucosal mast cells (IMMC) and mucosal nerves raises the possibility that there is crosstalk between mast cells and extrinsic nerves that connect to the CNS. The idea of mast cell-CNS interactions is supported by the demonstration that rat mast cell protease II (RMCPII), found predominantly in IMMC, can be conditionally released by pairing an audio-visual cue with antigen challenge. That the vagus nerve is involved in the IMMC-nerve axis was further demonstrated in a series of our studies showing that: (a) vagal afferents penetrate the small intestinal mucosa and contact IMMC; (b) vagotomy causes a reduction in IMMC density, suggesting a trophic relationship (typical of nerve-target interactions); and (c) stimulation of the cervical vagus causes an increase in histamine and serotonin in IMMC. To further investigate the IMMC-nerve axis in a model of post-inflammatory bowel disorders, infection with Nippostrongylus brasiliensis (Nb) was used to demonstrate an increase in mast cell numbers in the intestinal mucosa and mucosal nerve remodelling with hyperinnervation. Administration of Nb antigen resulted in dramatic increases in mesenteric afferent nerve firing in Nb infected rats, that was absent in sham animals. Moreover, challenge of post-Nb rats with 2-methyl-5HT caused increased mesenteric afferent firing, indicating that vagal afferent innervation remains intact in the post-infection state. These data suggest a functional connection between mast cells and extrinsic afferent nerves. Nb infection provides a useful model of altered communication between IMMCs, peripheral nerves and the CNS, as may occur in post-inflammatory disease states. Since a close anatomical relationship has also previously been demonstrated between nerves and IMMC in humans, further understanding the mast cell-nerve axis may be of critical importance in the development of treatments for various human disease states, including functional bowel disorders.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / immunology*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / innervation*
  • Mast Cells / immunology*
  • Vagus Nerve / immunology*