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Trends Neurosci. 1996 Jan;19(1):25-31.

Mast cells in the brain: evidence and functional significance.

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  • 1Psychology Dept, Barnard College and Columbia University, New York, NY, USA.


For the past two decades the brain has been considered to be an immune-privileged site that excludes circulating cells from the parenchyma. New evidence indicates that some hematocytes reside in the brain, while others traffic through it. Mast cells belong to both of these functional types. Moreover, the appearance of mast cells in the CNS can be triggered behaviorally. After a brief period of courtship, for example, there is a marked increase in mast cells in the medial habenula of sexually active doves compared with controls. Exposure to gonadal steroids that occur endogenously or that are administered exogenously increases both the number of mast cells and their state of activation in the brain. These results show that hematopoietic cells can provide targeted delivery of neuromodulators to specific regions of the brain, thereby influencing neural-endocrine interactions.

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