Mast cells are "master regulators" of the immune system. They come from bone marrow and go into all tissues of the body. Each mast cell contains secretory granules (storage sacs), each containing powerful biologically active molecules called mediators. These can be secreted when mast cells are triggered, leading to allergic and inflammatory diseases.
Some of these diseases, such as mastocytosis, derive from an increased number of mast cells. Others, such as Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS), are the result of the activation of mast cells. Other diseases and disorders involving mast cell activation includes asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome, coronary hypersensitivity syndrome, eczema, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome, neuroinflammation, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), psoriasis, and even autism. [Show/hide more]
In allergies or anaphylaxis, mast cells can release the content of all the secretory granules rapidly (degranulation) in response to foods, drugs or insect bites. Mast cells can also release specific mediators selectively in response to heat, odors, stress, as well as bacterial, viral or yeast infections.
The release of mast cell mediators can be unpredictable and can affect multiple organs in children and adults. Symptoms may include: skin rashes, flushing, itching, hives, muscle and bone pain, fatigue, gastrointestinal issues, nausea, vomiting, headache, difficulty concentrating and remembering (brain fog), depression, anxiety, mood fluctuations. as well as chest tightness, blood pressure changes, difficulty breathing and swallowing symptoms typically associated with life-threatening anaphylactic shock.
Mast cells have been found to be involved in a wide array of diseases & conditions. Here's a partial listing:
Mast cells play a major role in many physiologic processes, but for reasons that are unclear, they may become an aggressive force, which can damage the natural biologic balance. One of the most significant challenges is early recognition of mast cell involvement in conditions and diseases which may present with a multitude of symptoms that are often misdiagnosed. Although appropriate referral to a specialist is essential, the limited arsenal presently available for identification and diagnosis is a considerable obstacle. More research is needed.