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Virginia Commonwealth University immunologists studying mast cells, known to play a central role in asthma and allergic disease, have identified a hormone-like molecule that can kill these cells by programming them to die in studies with mice.

The findings move researchers another step closer to understanding the life cycle of mast cells, and may help researchers develop new treatments for allergy and inflammatory responses in arthritis, multiple sclerosis and heart disease.

In the Journal of Immunology, published online Aug. 23, researchers demonstrated the means by which a cytokine called interferon gamma (IFNγ induces death of developing mast cells in a mouse model system. Although IFNγ induced cell death in developing mast cells, it did not affect the survival of mast cells that had already undergone differentiation.

"We believe that cytokines, such as interferon gamma, are an important means of controlling mast cell function in the body," said John J. Ryan, Ph.D., associate professor of biology at VCU and lead author of the study. "Because mast cells cause inflammation, regulating how many mast cells the body makes, where they go, what they do, and when they die can have a huge impact on health and disease.

"For example, there has been one report of a patient with mastocytosis, which is a type of pre-leukemia where mast cells proliferate abnormally, that showed improvement with IFNγ treatment," he said. "It is possible that other mast cell-related diseases, such as asthma, may respond to IFNγ treatment."

According to Ryan, mast cells are packed with granules containing histamine and are present in nearly all tissues except blood. When mast cells are activated, inflammatory substances such as histamine, heparin and a number of cytokines are rapidly released into the tissues and blood, promoting an allergic reaction.

Mast cells are believed to be generated by different precursor cells in the
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Source:NSF Public Affairs


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