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Cancer Immunol Res. 2013 Nov;1(5):269-79. doi: 10.1158/2326-6066.CIR-13-0119.

Mast cells: potential positive and negative roles in tumor biology.

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Authors' Affiliations: Departments of Microbiology and Immunology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California.


Mast cells are immune cells that reside in virtually all vascularized tissues. Upon activation by diverse mechanisms, mast cells can secrete a broad array of biologically active products that either are stored in the cytoplasmic granules of the cells (e.g., histamine, heparin, various proteases) or are produced de novo upon cell stimulation (e.g., prostaglandins, leukotrienes, cytokines, chemokines, and growth factors). Mast cells are best known for their effector functions during anaphylaxis and acute IgE-associated allergic reactions, but they also have been implicated in a wide variety of processes that maintain health or contribute to disease. There has been particular interest in the possible roles of mast cells in tumor biology. In vitro studies have shown that mast cells have the potential to influence many aspects of tumor biology, including tumor development, tumor-induced angiogenesis, and tissue remodeling, and the shaping of adaptive immune responses to tumors. Yet, the actual contributions of mast cells to tumor biology in vivo remain controversial. Here, we review some basic features of mast cell biology with a special emphasis on those relevant to their potential roles in tumors. We discuss how using in vivo tumor models in combination with models in which mast cell function can be modulated has implicated mast cells in the regulation of host responses to tumors. Finally, we summarize data from studies of human tumors that suggest either beneficial or detrimental roles for mast cells in tumors.

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