OBJECTIVES: Mast cells (MCs) are increased in eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE). Endoscopic abnormalities, symptoms, and epithelial changes can persist after treatment despite a reduction of esophageal eosinophilia. It is unknown whether this could be due to persistent MC infiltration. We aimed to determine whether patients with histologically inactive (HI) EoE (defined as <15 eosinophils per high-powered field) with persistent symptoms, endoscopic, or epithelial abnormalities after treatment have increased MCs. METHODS: Secondary analysis of prospective data from 93 children with EoE undergoing post-treatment endoscopy between 2011 and 2015. Thirty-five non-EoE controls were included. Immunohistochemistry for tryptase, an MC marker, was performed on mid and distal esophageal biopsies. Total and degranulated intraepithelial MCs per high-powered field (MC/hpf) were quantified. Symptoms and endoscopic findings were recorded at time of endoscopy. MC/hpf were compared between HI-EoE and control, and among HI-EoE based on endoscopic and histologic findings, and symptoms. Nine clinical remission (CR) patients were identified, with absence of endoscopic abnormalities and symptoms. RESULTS: MC/hpf were increased in HI-EoE compared with control (17 ± 11 vs 8 ± 6, P < 0.0). Patients with persistent endoscopic abnormalities had increased total (20 ± 12 vs 13 ± 10, P = 0.001) and degranulated (8 ± 6 vs 5 ± 4, P = 0.002) MC/hpf, with no difference in eosinophils. MC/hpf predicted furrowing (odds ratio = 1.06, P = 0.01) and rings (odds ratio = 1.05, P = 0.03) after controlling for treatment type, proton-pump inhibitor, eosinophils, and duration of therapy. Patients with persistent basal zone hyperplasia and dilated intercellular spaces had increased MC/hpf. Eosinophils were weakly correlated with MC/hpf in the mid (r = 0.30, P < 0.001) and distal (r = 0.29, P < 0.001) esophagus. Clinical remission patients had lower MC/hpf compared with patients with persistent symptoms and/or endoscopic abnormalities. DISCUSSION: MC density is increased in patients with endoscopic and epithelial abnormalities, as well as a few symptoms, despite resolution of esophageal eosinophilia after treatment. This association warrants further study to ascertain whether MCs play an eosinophil independent role in EoE.
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