The Parasympathetic Nervous System as a Regulator of Mast Cell Function
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Often considered as the archetype of neuroimmune communication, much of our understanding of the bidirectional relationship between the nervous and immune systems has come from the study of mast cell-nerve interaction. Mast cells play a role in resistance to infection and are extensively involved in inflammation and subsequent tissue repair. Thus, the relationship between mast cells and neurons enables the involvement of peripheral and central nervous systems in the regulation of host defense mechanisms and inflammation. Recently, with the identification of the cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway, there has been increased interest in the role of the parasympathetic nervous system in regulating immune responses. Classical neurotransmitters and neuropeptides released from cholinergic and inhibitory NANC neurons can modulate mast cell activity, and there is good evidence for the existence of parasympathetic nerve-mast cell functional units in the skin, lung, and intestine that have the potential to regulate a range of physiological processes.
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