Formation of contacts between mast cells and sympathetic neurons in vitro
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Functional interactions between mast cells and peripheral nerves may occur at sites of association seen in vivo. To study the interactions, we developed a tissue culture model of murine sympathetic neurons co-cultured with rat basophilic leukaemia (RBL-2H3) cells (homologues of mucosal mast cells) or rat peritoneal mast cells. In co-cultures of up to 3 days, light microscopy identified neurite contacts with peritoneal mast cells or RBL-2H3 cells, but not with glial cells or fibroblasts. Electron microscopy confirmed membrane-membrane contact between neurites and RBL-2H3 cells. Time-lapse analysis of interactions between neurons and RBL-2H3 cells showed that 60-100% of the cells in a given field acquired neurite contact within 17 h. In matching control studies, there was no increase in the frequency of neurite contact with cells of the rat plasmacytoma line (YB2/0): these were not selected as targets, and contacts were broken if formed. Time-lapse records of the derivation of neurites from their path suggested a neurotropic effect of mast cells, with neurite contact ensuing when the intervening distance was less than 36 +/- 4 microns. Once formed, contacts were invariably maintained throughout the period of examination (up to 72 h), in contrast to YB2/O or fibroblast contacts. We conclude that neurons selectively form and maintain connections with cells representative of rat connective tissue-type and mucosal mast cells in vitro. Similar interactions in vivo could promote nerve/mast cell contacts, which may allow bidirectional communication between the nervous and immune systems.
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