Mast Cells as Regulators of Adaptive Immune Responses in Food Allergy

Yale J Biol Med. 2020 Dec 29;93(5):711-718. eCollection 2020 Dec.


Mast cells are a critical first line of defense against endogenous and environmental threats. Their participation in innate immunity is well characterized; activation of toll like receptors as well as receptors for complement, adenosine, and a host of other ligands leads to mast cell release of preformed mediators contained within granules along with newly synthesized arachidonic acid metabolites, cytokines, and chemokines. These confer protective effects including the induction of mucus secretion, smooth muscle contraction, and activation of common itch and pain sensations, all of which act to promote expulsion of noxious agents. While their innate immune role as sentinel cells is well established, recent research has brought into focus their separate but also critical function in adaptive immunity particularly in the setting of IgE mediated food allergies. Crosslinking of FcεR1, the high affinity receptor for IgE, when bound to IgE and antigen, triggers the release of the same factors and elicits the same physiologic responses that occur after activation by innate stimuli. Though IgE-activated mast cells are best known for their role in acute allergic reactions, including the most severe manifestation, anaphylaxis, accumulating evidence has suggested an immunoregulatory effect in T cell-mediated immunity, modulating the balance between type 2 immunity and tolerance. In this review, we outline how mast cells act as adjuvants for food antigen driven Th2 cell responses, while curtailing Treg function.

Keywords: Th2; Treg; cytokines; food allergy; mast cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptive Immunity
  • Allergens
  • Food Hypersensitivity*
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin E
  • Mast Cells*


  • Allergens
  • Immunoglobulin E