Inflammatory Cells and the Epithelium: Mast Cell/Nerve Interactions in the LungIn VitroandIn Vivo Academic Article uri icon

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  • A hypothesis is presented that mast cells in and below the epithelium of the respiratory tract show functional association with nerves to form a homeostatic regulatory unit. During inflammation, mast cells may arise in situ as well as by infiltration because epithelium contains both mast cell precursors and produces factors that support their growth in vitro. Structural studies show that mast cells associate with nerves in the lung. Using a tissue culture model, we showed that sympathetic nerves formed lasting contacts with rat basophilic leukemia (RBL) cells. Electrophysiologic studies showed that nerve contact increases RBL membrane conductance, which can be mimicked by exogenous substance P (SP). Experiments with sensitized rat tracheal mucosa in Ussing chambers showed functional evidence of interaction of mast cells with SP-containing nerves: changes in short circuit current caused by antigen were blocked by the mast cell stabilizer doxantrazole and reduced by 50% by neonatal pretreatment with capsaicin. Experiments in vivo showed that lung clearance of the aerosol probe 99mTc-DTPA was increased by antigen challenge in sensitized rats. This was blocked by neonatal capsaicin treatment, again implicating SP-containing nerves. Therefore, we conclude that the functional association of mast cells with nerves is an important mechanism in regulating the local epithelial environment.


  • Bienenstock, John
  • Perdue, Mary
  • Blennerhassett, Michael
  • Stead, Ron
  • Kakuta, Nori
  • Sestini, Piersante
  • Vancheri, Carlo
  • Marshall, Jean

publication date

  • December 1988