Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is traditionally defined as a functional disorder since it lacks demonstrable pathological abnormalities. However, in recent years, low grade inflammatory infiltration, often rich in mast cells, in both the small and large bowel, has been observed in some patients with IBS. The close association of mast cells with major intestinal functions, such as epithelial secretion and permeability, neuroimmune interactions, visceral sensation, and peristalsis, makes researchers and gastroenterologists to focus attention on the key roles of mast cells in the pathogenesis of IBS. Numerous studies have been carried out to identify the mechanisms in the development, infiltration, activation, and degranulation of intestinal mast cells, as well as the actions of mast cells in the processes of mucosal barrier disruption, mucosal immune dysregulation, visceral hypersensitivity, dysmotility, and local and central stress in IBS. Moreover, therapies targeting mast cells, such as mast cell stabilizers (cromoglycate and ketotifen) and antagonists of histamine and serotonin receptors, have been tried in IBS patients, and have partially exhibited considerable efficacy. This review focuses on recent advances in the role of mast cells in IBS, with particular emphasis on bridging experimental data with clinical therapeutics for IBS patients.
Keywords: Innate immunity; Irritable bowel syndrome; Mast cells; Mucosal barrier; Visceral pain.