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Immunopharmacology. 1995 Nov;31(1):1-18.

Immunological characterization and functional importance of human heart mast cells.

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Department of Medicine, University of Naples, Italy.


Mast cells are present in normal and even more abundant in diseased human heart tissue and their localization is of particular relevance to their function. Within heart tissue mast cells lie between myocytes and in close contact with blood vessels. They are also found in the coronary adventitia and in the shoulder regions of a coronary atheroma. The density of cardiac mast cells is markedly higher in some patients with myocarditis and dilated cardiomyopathy than in accident victims without cardiovascular diseases. More importantly, in some of these conditions there is in situ evidence of mast cell activation. We have described an original technique to isolate and purify HHMC for in vitro study. This procedure gives viable cells and after stimulation with immunological or non-immunological stimuli they release performed (histamine and tryptase) and newly generated mediators (PGD2 and LTC4). We have demonstrated that HHMC differ from those in other anatomical districts in that they are activated by specific immunological and non-immunological stimuli, and in their relation to the arachidonic acid metabolism, suggesting that the local microenvironment can influence their phenotypic and biochemical characteristics. Our own and other findings suggest that HHMC have complex and significant roles in different pathophysiological conditions involving the cardiovascular system. Direct activation of HHMC by therapeutic and diagnostic substances injected intravenously explains some of the anaphylactoid reactions caused by these agents. HHMC possess Fc epsilon RI and IgE bound to the surface and C5a receptors, which could explain how cardiac mast cells are involved in systemic and cardiac anaphylaxis. Cardiac mast cells and those in human coronary arteries also play a role in the early and late stages of atherogenesis and during ischemic myocardial injury. In conclusion, although studies of HHMC are in their infancy, their in vitro isolation may be useful in identifying additional mediators synthesized and released, stimuli relevant to human pathophysiology, and pharmacological agents selectively modulating the activation of these cells and their mediators. Drugs specifically acting on HHMC or on their mediators may eventually be useful in treating different cardiovascular diseases.

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