Basic science for the clinician 53: mast cells

J Clin Rheumatol. 2011 Oct;17(7):395-400. doi: 10.1097/RHU.0b013e31823150b5.


Mast cells stand at the interface between the innate immune system and the acquired (adaptive) immune response, serving as sentinels detecting invaders and directing a concerted and coordinated response. Mast cells reside immediately under body surfaces and within lymph nodes, near blood vessels and nerves, perfectly situated to for early detection and defense. They secrete a wide array of prostanoids, cytokines, chemokines, and other proteins mediators and modifiers of a variety of immune and inflammatory functions and bear surface markers suggesting broad functions, including as antigen-presenting cells. Although usually not given their due in medical school lectures, there is great likelihood that mast cells will be implicated in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, multiple sclerosis, and perhaps cancer. Thus, better insights into mast cell functions and mast cell-derived effector molecules should command our attention as we move forward in better understanding disease immunopathogenesis and directed intelligent therapeutics development.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptive Immunity / immunology
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / immunology
  • Mast Cells / physiology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology