New insights into the role of mast cells in autoimmunity: Evidence for a common mechanism of action?

Margaret E. Walker, Julianne K. Hatfield, Melissa A. Brown*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Mast cells are classically considered innate immune cells that act as first responders in many microbial infections and have long been appreciated as potent contributors to allergic reactions. However, recent advances in the realm of autoimmunity have made it clear that these cells are also involved in the pathogenic responses that exacerbate disease. In the murine models of multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and bullous pemphigoid, both the pathogenic role of mast cells and some of their mechanisms of action are shared. Similar to their role in infection and a subset of allergic responses, mast cells are required for the efficient recruitment of neutrophils to sites of inflammation. Although this mast cell-dependent neutrophil response is protective in infection settings, it is postulated that neutrophils promote local vascular permeability and facilitate the entry of inflammatory cells that enhance tissue destruction at target sites. However, there is still much to learn. There is little information regarding mechanisms of mast cell activation in disease. Nor is it known how many mast cell-derived mediators are relevant and whether interactions with other cells are implicated in these diseases including T cells, B cells and astrocytes. Here we review the current state of knowledge about mast cells in autoimmune disease. We also discuss findings regarding newly discovered mast cell actions and factors that modulate mast cell function. We speculate that much of this new information will ultimately contribute to a greater understanding of the full range of mast cell actions in autoimmunity. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Mast cells in inflammation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-65
Number of pages9
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Molecular Basis of Disease
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012


  • Autoimmunity
  • Inflammation
  • Mast cells
  • Neutrophils
  • TNF

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology


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