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Hum Reprod Update. 2011 May-Jun;17(3):383-96. doi: 10.1093/humupd/dmq053. Epub 2010 Oct 19.

The role of mast cells and their mediators in reproduction, pregnancy and labour.

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  • 1Centre for Population and Health Science, College of Medicine, Veterinary and Life Sciences University of Glasgow, McGregor Building, Floor 2, Western Infirmary, Glasgow, UK.



Mast cells (MCs) are the classical mediators of allergy, however, their importance in the development of innate and adaptive immune responses is increasingly being recognized. Herein, the present MC literature is summarized, with particular focus on studies of MCs in the endometrium and myometrium, and their involvement in fertility, implantation, pregnancy and labour.


Recent developments in MC biology were identified by systematic searches of PubMed, Medline and Google Scholar from 2000 to November 2009. To specifically examine the role of MCs in fertility and pregnancy, we then performed a systematic review of English literature cited in the PubMed, Medline and Google Scholar databases, but extended the search period, from 1980 to January 2010


MCs can respond to immunoglobulin E-independent innate immune stimuli and are present within the endometrium, with activation and release of mediators occurring prior to menstruation and in association with endometriosis. With respect to pregnancy, MCs are redundant during blastocyst implantation and although their mediators can induce myometrial contractility, there is no epidemiological link of preterm birth with allergy, suggesting a non-essential role or robust regulation. In males, MCs are present in the testes and are increased in oligo- and azoospermia, with MC mediators directly suppressing sperm motility in a potentially reversible manner.


MCs are prevalent in the female and male reproductive tract. However, whether MCs are absolutely required for a successful pregnancy or are fundamental to reproductive pathology, and thereby a therapeutic target, remains to be determined.

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