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Scand J Gastroenterol. 2014 Jan;49(1):43-51. doi: 10.3109/00365521.2013.857712. Epub 2013 Nov 21.

Mast cell number, substance P and vasoactive intestinal peptide in irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea.

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Department of Internal Medicine, Hanyang University College of Medicine , Seoul , Korea.



Recent studies have shown that mast cells play an important role in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). We investigated the relationship between mast cells and the gut hormones substance P and vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) in irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea (IBS-D).


Colonoscopic biopsies were performed on the rectal mucosa of 43 subjects (IBS-D patients: 22, healthy volunteers: 21) diagnosed according to the Rome III criteria. Mast cells, and substance P & VIP were evaluated by quantitative immunohistology and image analysis. Mast cells were counted as tryptase-positive cells in the lamina propria, and substance P and VIP levels were expressed as percentages of total areas of staining.


Mast cell counts were higher in IBS-D patients than healthy volunteers (9.6 ± 3.3 vs. 5.7 ± 2.5/high power field (HPF), p < 0.01). Substance P was also elevated (0.11 ± 0.08% vs. 0.03 ± 0.02 %, p < 0.01) while VIP was only high in women with IBS-D. Mast cell counts were positively correlated with levels of substance P & VIP in women but not men (women: r = 0.625, p < 0.01 for substance P and r = 0.651, p < 0.01 for VIP). However, mast cell counts were not correlated with IBS symptoms including abdominal pain.


Mast cells are activated leading to the raised levels of substance P & VIP in IBS-D patients. However, the correlation between mast cells and levels of substance P & VIP differs according to gender.

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