Determination of plasma heparin level improves identification of systemic mast cell activation disease

PLoS One. 2015 Apr 24;10(4):e0124912. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0124912. eCollection 2015.


Diagnosis of mast cell activation disease (MCAD), i.e. systemic mastocytosis (SM) and idiopathic systemic mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS), usually requires demonstration of increased mast cell (MC) mediator release. Since only a few MC mediators are currently established as biomarkers of MCAD, the sensitivity of plasma heparin level (pHL) as an indicator of increased MC activation was compared with that of serum tryptase, chromogranin A and urinary N-methylhistamine levels in 257 MCAD patients. Basal pHL had a sensitivity of 41% in MCAS patients and 27% in SM patients. Non-pharmacologic stimulation of MC degranulation by obstruction of venous flow for 10 minutes increased the sensitivity of pHL in MCAS patients to 59% and in SM patients to 47%. In MCAS patients tryptase, chromogranin A, and N-methylhistamine levels exhibited low sensitivities (10%, 12%, and 22%, respectively), whereas sensitivities for SM were higher (73%, 63%, and 43%, respectively). Taken together, these data suggest pHL appears more sensitive than the other mediators for detecting systemic MC activity in patients with MCAS. The simple, brief venous occlusion test appears to be a useful indicator of the presence of pathologically irritable MCs, at least in the obstructed compartment of the body.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anticoagulants / pharmacokinetics*
  • Biomarkers
  • Chromogranin A / blood
  • Female
  • Heparin / pharmacokinetics*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mast Cells / drug effects
  • Mast Cells / immunology*
  • Mast Cells / metabolism
  • Mastocytosis / blood*
  • Mastocytosis / diagnosis
  • Mastocytosis / immunology*
  • Methylhistamines / blood
  • Middle Aged
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tryptases / blood
  • Young Adult


  • Anticoagulants
  • Biomarkers
  • Chromogranin A
  • Methylhistamines
  • Heparin
  • Tryptases
  • N-methylhistamine

Grant support

These authors have no support or funding to report.