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Mast cells: Surface receptors and signal transduction

Michael Gurish, PhD
Mariana C Castells, MD, PhD
Section Editor
Sarbjit Saini, MD
Deputy Editor
Anna M Feldweg, MD


Mast cells display a host of stimulatory and inhibitory surface receptors, allowing them to respond to a variety of stimuli in a modulated manner. The ultimate response of a cell to its environment is determined by the balance of stimulatory and inhibitory factors present at a given moment and acting on different receptors.

This topic review will discuss the activating and inhibitory receptors on mast cells and signal transduction mechanisms. The information in this review pertains to human mast cells whenever possible, and notation is made when data are derived purely from murine studies. Mast cell-derived mediators, as well as the development, identification, and physiologic roles of mast cells, are reviewed separately. (See "Mast cell-derived mediators" and "Mast cells: Development, identification, and physiologic roles".)


Important stimulatory receptors on the surface of mast cells include the high-affinity immunoglobulin E (IgE) receptor, immunoglobulin G (IgG) receptors, toll-like receptors (TLRs), receptors for stem cell factor (SCF), complement proteins, cytokine receptors (eg, for the alarmins interleukin-33 [IL-33] and thymic stromal lymphopoietin [TSLP]), neuropeptides, and opioids. A G-coupled protein receptor that is important in anaphylactoid reactions, MRGPRX2, was identified in 2015 [1].

High affinity IgE receptor — Classical mast cell activation occurs through the high affinity immunoglobulin E (IgE) receptor, Fc-epsilon-RI. Activation occurs when adjacent receptors, occupied by receptor-bound IgE, are crosslinked by a multivalent antigen. This is a strong stimulus for degranulation and release of preformed mediators, as well as for de novo production and subsequent release of leukotrienes, prostaglandins, and cytokines, including numerous chemokines. (See "Mast cell-derived mediators".)

High and low valency or affinity antigens are able to trigger differential responses through Fc-epsilon-RI receptors. High affinity or high valency antigens trigger classic degranulation and cytokine responses with neutrophilic inflammation. In contrast, low valency or low affinity allergens may not trigger degranulation, but can still trigger production of chemokines that recruit macrophages and monocytes [2,3].

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Aug 28, 2017.
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