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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Nov 18;105(46):18053-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0809479105. Epub 2008 Nov 11.

Brain mast cells link the immune system to anxiety-like behavior.

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Department of Psychology, Columbia University, 1190 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10027, USA.


Mast cells are resident in the brain and contain numerous mediators, including neurotransmitters, cytokines, and chemokines, that are released in response to a variety of natural and pharmacological triggers. The number of mast cells in the brain fluctuates with stress and various behavioral and endocrine states. These properties suggest that mast cells are poised to influence neural systems underlying behavior. Using genetic and pharmacological loss-of-function models we performed a behavioral screen for arousal responses including emotionality, locomotor, and sensory components. We found that mast cell deficient Kit(W-sh/W-sh) (sash(-/-)) mice had a greater anxiety-like phenotype than WT and heterozygote littermate control animals in the open field arena and elevated plus maze. Second, we show that blockade of brain, but not peripheral, mast cell activation increased anxiety-like behavior. Taken together, the data implicate brain mast cells in the modulation of anxiety-like behavior and provide evidence for the behavioral importance of neuroimmune links.

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