Mast Cell Degranulation Is Accompanied by the Release of a Selective Subset of Extracellular Vesicles That Contain Mast Cell-Specific Proteases

J Immunol. 2016 Oct 15;197(8):3382-3392. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1600614. Epub 2016 Sep 12.


Mast cells (MC) are well known for their effector role in allergic disorders; moreover, they are associated with diverse modulatory effects in innate and adaptive immunity. It is largely unclear how MC exert these modulating functions. In this article, we show that IgE-mediated MC degranulation leads to a rapid release of high quantities of extracellular vesicles (EV), comparable to the release of preformed mediators. EV are submicron structures composed of lipid bilayers, proteins, and nucleic acids that are released by cells in a regulated fashion and are involved in intercellular communication. Primary murine mucosal-type MC and connective tissue-type MC released phenotypically different EV populations depending on the stimulus they received. Although unstimulated MC constitutively released CD9+ EV, degranulation was accompanied by the release of CD63+ EV, which correlated with release of the soluble mediator β-hexosaminidase. This CD63+ EV subset was smaller and exhibited a higher buoyant density and distinct phospholipid composition compared with CD9+ EV. Marked differences were observed for phosphatidylinositol, phosphatidic acid, and bis(monoacylglycero)phosphate species. Strikingly, proteomic analysis of CD63+ EV from connective tissue-type MC unveiled an abundance of MC-specific proteases. With regard to carboxypeptidase A3, it was confirmed that the enzyme was EV associated and biologically active. Our data demonstrate that, depending on their activation status, MC release distinct EV subsets that differ in composition and protease activity and are indicative of differential immunological functions. Concerning the strategic tissue distribution of MC and the presence of degranulated MC in various (allergic) disorders, MC-derived EV should be considered potentially important immune regulators.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Degranulation* / immunology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Extracellular Vesicles / immunology
  • Extracellular Vesicles / metabolism*
  • Mast Cells / immunology*
  • Mast Cells / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Peptide Hydrolases / immunology
  • Peptide Hydrolases / metabolism*


  • Peptide Hydrolases