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Overview of Mast Cell Diseases

Updated On:
March 2024
David Harris

Introduction to Mast Cells Diseases

The term "mast cell disease" encompasses a spectrum of disorders characterized by the abnormal activation of mast cells. These cells, when triggered, release substances that lead to symptoms resembling allergies. This condition affects both adults and children.

What is a Mast Cell?

Mast cells are a type of immune cell found throughout the body, particularly in the areolar tissue, which is a type of loose connective tissue. These cells are crucial for triggering inflammatory responses to defend against pathogens and harmful substances. Upon activation, mast cells release "mediators" that lead to symptoms akin to allergies, playing a pivotal role in maintaining the balance of the immune system.

In certain individuals, mast cells function aberrantly, leading to excessive release of these mediators. This can result in frequent episodes of allergy-like symptoms and anaphylaxis. Moreover, the disease may involve unchecked growth and accumulation of mast cells.

Mast Cell Mediators Explained

Mast cells contain granules loaded with various mediators. These mediators interact with receptors on cells throughout the body, leading to the manifestation of allergy-like symptoms.

Significant mast cell mediators include:

  • Histamine
  • Tryptase
  • Leukotrienes
  • Prostaglandins
  • Interleukins
  • Heparin
  • Tumor necrosis factor-α
  • Cytokines
  • Proteases
  • Proteoglycans

These mediators can affect many different organs, such as:

  • Lungs
  • Heart
  • Bone marrow
  • Kidneys
  • Skin
  • Gastrointestinal tract
  • Brain
  • Spleen
  • Liver
  • Lymph nodes
  • Bladder (Notably, interstitial cystitis is commonly observed in individuals with mast cell disease.)

Classification of Mast Cell Diseases


Mastocytosis is broadly classified into cutaneous and systemic categories, each with subtypes.

Cutaneous Mastocytosis:

This type primarily involves the skin, presenting in both children and adults, with children more likely to experience this form over systemic mastocytosis. It includes:

  • Maculopapular Cutaneous Mastocytosis/Urticaria Pigmentosa
  • Solitary Cutaneous Mastocytoma
  • Diffuse Cutaneous Mastocytosis

Systemic Mastocytosis:

This category encompasses disorders where there is proliferation and accumulation of mast cells in organs other than the skin. It consists of:

  • Indolent Systemic Mastocytosis
  • Isolated Bone Marrow Mastocytosis
  • Smoldering Systemic Mastocytosis
  • Systemic Mastocytosis with an Associated Hematological Neoplasm
  • Aggressive Systemic Mastocytosis
  • Mast Cell Sarcoma
  • Mast Cell Leukemia

Mast Cell Activation Syndromes (MCAS)

MCAS represents conditions where mast cells are overreactive but do not meet the criteria for systemic mastocytosis. These include:

  • Monoclonal Mast Cell Activation Syndrome
  • Secondary Mast Cell Activation Syndrome
  • Idiopathic Mast Cell Activation Syndrome
Unique Considerations in Mast Cell Diseases

Some patients with idiopathic mast cell activation syndrome experience systemic anaphylactic-like episodes without an identifiable cause. It's important to rule out other autoimmune conditions before diagnosing IMCAS. Not all patients with MCAS will present with elevated tryptase. If a patient does present with elevated tryptase, it is important to consider a diagnosis of Hereditary Alpha-Tryptasemia or some form of Mastocytosis.

Hereditary Alpha-Tryptasemia (HαT)

HαT, a genetic trait leading to elevated tryptase levels and symptoms of mast cell activation, affects a portion of the population. Testing for HαT is recommended for individuals with high serum tryptase levels.

This rephrased version provides a comprehensive overview of mast cell diseases, retaining the scientific depth of the original article. For more detailed or updated information, consulting recent publications or specific medical guidelines is advisable.

Diagnostics and Treatment Modalities in Mast Cell Disorders

Diagnostic Approaches

The diagnosis of mast cell diseases involves a combination of clinical evaluation and laboratory testing, including the measurement of tryptase levels in the blood, which are often elevated in these conditions. Skin biopsies and bone marrow biopsies may also be employed to ascertain the presence and extent of mast cell proliferation.

Management Strategies for Mast Cell Disorders

The management of mast cell diseases varies depending on the severity and type of mast cell disease. Treatment aims to mitigate symptoms and prevent complications. Common approaches include:

  • Antihistamines to counteract histamine effects.
  • Mast cell stabilizers to prevent mediator release.
  • Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.
  • Tyrosine kinase inhibitors for certain systemic cases.
  • Epinephrine for emergency management of anaphylactic reactions.

Lifestyle adjustments and avoidance of known triggers are also crucial in managing these diseases.

Supportive Care and Patient Education

Supportive care, including patient education on symptom management and trigger avoidance, plays a vital role in the overall treatment plan for individuals with mast cell diseases. Patient advocacy groups and specialized clinics offer resources and support for affected individuals and their families.

Emerging Research and Future Directions

Recent advances in the understanding of mast cell biology and the pathogenesis of mast cell diseases have opened new avenues for targeted therapies. Molecularly targeted treatments, such as inhibitors of specific signaling pathways involved in mast cell proliferation and activation, are under investigation. These developments promise more effective and personalized treatment options for patients with mast cell disorders.


Mast cell diseases encompass a wide range of disorders with varying presentations and severities. Advances in our understanding of these conditions have led to better diagnostic criteria and more targeted treatment approaches, improving the quality of life for many patients. Ongoing research continues to unravel the complexities of mast cell biology, promising further improvements in care and management for those affected by these challenging conditions.

This continued section aims to encapsulate a broader understanding of mast cell diseases, touching upon diagnostics, treatments, and the importance of supportive care. Given the evolving nature of medical research, staying informed through reputable medical journals and associations is essential for accessing the most current information and treatment recommendations.

For those looking into the latest research or seeking specific studies on mast cell diseases, consulting databases such as PubMed or accessing medical journals directly can provide access to peer-reviewed articles and clinical trials findings, ensuring a comprehensive grasp of the subject matter.


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