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Exp Toxicol Pathol. 1997 Dec;49(6):409-24.

The mast cell: origin, morphology, distribution, and function.

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Department of Anatomical Pathology, South Western Area Pathology Service, Liverpool Hospital, New South Wales, Australia.


The mast cell remains an enigmatic cell more than 100 years after its discovery by Paul Ehrlich at the turn of the century. It is a cell that is found widely distributed in the body particularly associated with connective tissues. It can be recognised by its content of metachromatic granules when appropriately fixed and stained with metachromatic dyes such as toulidine blue. The metachromatic granules of the mast cell remain an important differentiating characteristic from other cells although it is by no means absolute. In the early days of its discovery it was thought to originate from primitive mesenchyme, thymocyte or lymphocyte. More recent evidence suggests that it may have originated from the monocyte. Current evidence points to an origin from haemopoietic tissue in the bone marrow, the progenitors differentiate from primitive cells under the influence of cytokines (IL3), migrate to other body sites and then undergo differentiation and maturation under the influence of growth and other factors. The mast cell has many functions exerted through its ability to produce a host of biologically active substances the most notable being heparin, serotonin, dopamine, tryptase and chymase. These substances may be released in response to immunological and neural stimuli. Mast cells are found to be functionally heterogeneous, possibly site specific and have the ability to adapt to their environment, producing secretions commensurate with the needs of any situation. The mast cell is involved in immunological, neoplastic, inflammatory and other conditions. Much about its function has been unravelled but there remains more to be uncovered.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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