Basophils are evolutionarily conserved in many animal species, in spite of the fact that they account for <1% of peripheral blood leukocyte. This suggests that basophils have an indispensable and nonredundant role in vivo, even though they show some phenotypic similarity with tissue-resident mast cells. However, their functional significance remained uncertain long after Paul Ehrlich discovered them as blood-circulating cells with basophilic granules more than 130 years ago. The study of basophils has been far behind that of mast cells, owing to the rarity of basophils and the paucity of tools for their detection and functional analysis. Recent development of novel analytical tools, including basophil-depleting antibodies and genetically engineered mice deficient only in basophils, has greatly advanced basophil research and illuminated previously unrecognized roles of basophils. We now appreciate that basophils and mast cells play distinct roles in immune responses. Basophils have crucial roles in the development of acute and chronic allergic responses, the protective immunity against ecto- and endoparasites, and the regulation of acquired immunity, including the augmentation of humoral memory responses and the initiation of Th2 responses. Thus, basophils are no longer the neglected minority and are key players in the immune system.
© 2011 John Wiley & Sons A/S.