The histochemical characteristics of human basophils and tissue mast cells were described over a century ago by Paul Ehrlich. When mast cells are activated by an allergen that binds to serum IgE attached to their FcɛRI receptors, they release cytokines, eicosanoids and their secretory granules. Mast cells are now thought to exert critical proinflammatory functions, as well as potential immunoregulatory roles, in various immune disorders through the release of mediators such as histamine, leukotrienes, cytokines chemokines, and neutral proteases (chymase and tryptase). The aim of this review is to describe the role of mast cells in allergic inflammation. Mast cells interact directly with bacteria and appear to play a vital role in host defense against pathogens. Drugs, such as glucocorticoids, cyclosporine and cromolyn have been shown to have inhibitory effects on mast cell degranulation and mediator release. This review shows that mast cells play an active role in such diverse diseases as asthma, rhinitis, middle ear infection, and pulmonary fibrosis. In conclusion, mast cells may not only contribute to the chronic airway inflammatory response, remodeling and symptomatology, but they may also have a central role in the initiation of the allergic immune response, that is providing signals inducing IgE synthesis by B-lymphocytes and inducing Th2 lymphocyte differentiation.
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