Have a symptom?
See what questions
a doctor would ask.
Diseases » Mastocytosis » Wikipedia

Mastocytosis in Wikipedia

Note:Wikipedia is a user-contributed encyclopedia and may not have been reviewed by professional editors (See full Wikipedia disclaimer)

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Mastocytosis". (Source - Retrieved 2006-09-07 14:17:31 from


Mastocytosis is a group of rare disorders of both children and adults caused by the presence of too many mast cells (mastocytes) in a person's body.


Mast cells are located in connective tissue, including the skin, the linings of the stomach and intestine, and other sites. They may play an important role in helping defend these tissues from disease. By releasing chemical "alarms" such as histamine, mast cells attract other key players of the immune defense system to areas of the body where they are needed.

Mast cells seem to have other roles as well. Because they gather together around wounds, mast cells may play a part in wound healing. For example, the typical itching you feel around a healing scab may be caused by histamine released by mast cells. Researchers also think mast cells may have a role in the growth of blood vessels (angiogenesis). No one with too few or no mast cells has been found, which indicates to some scientists that we may not be able to survive with too few mast cells.

Mast cells express a cell surface receptor termed c-kit (CD117), which is the receptor for scf (stem cell factor). In laboratory studies, scf appears to be important for the proliferation of mast cells, and inhibiting the tyrosine kinase receptor with imatinib (see below) may reduce the symptoms of mastocytosis.


Scientists first described urticaria pigmentosa in 1869. Systemic mastocytosis was first reported by scientists in 1936.


Chemicals released by mast cells cause changes in the immune system leading to typical allergy symptoms such as:

When too many mast cells exist in a person's body, the additional chemicals can cause:


Doctors can diagnose urticaria pigmentosa (cutaneous mastocytosis, see below) by seeing the characteristic lesions which are dark-brown and fixed. A small skin sample (biopsy) may help confirm the diagnosis.

By taking a biopsy from a different organ, such as the bone marrow, the doctor can diagnose systemic mastocytosis. Using special techniques on a bone marrow sample, the doctor looks for an increase in mast cells. Another sign of this disorder is high levels of certain mast-cell chemicals and proteins in a person's blood and sometimes in the urine.


The presence of too many mast cells, or mastocytosis, can occur in a variety of forms. Most cases are cutaneous (confined to the skin only).

There are several forms of cutaneous mastocytosis. The most common is called urticaria pigmentosa (UP). It mostly affects children. Telangiectasia Macularis Eruptiva Perstans (TMEP) is a much rarer form of cutaneous mastocytosis that affects adults.

Systemic mastocytosis involves the internal organs, usually in addition to involving the skin. Mast cells collect in various tissues and can affect organs such as the liver, spleen, lymph nodes, and bone marrow.


No one is sure how many people have either type of mastocytosis, but mastocytosis generally has been considered to be an "orphan disease" (orphan diseases affect 200,000 or fewer people in the United States). Mastocytosis, however, often may be misdiagnosed, and occur more frequently than assumed.


There is currently no cure for mastocytosis. However, there are a number of medicines to help treat the symptoms of mastocytosis:

  • Antihistamines block receptors targeted by histamine released from mast cells. Both H1 and H2 blockers may be helpful.
  • Leukotriene antagonists block receptors targeted by leukotrienes released from mast cells.
  • Mast cell stabilizers help prevent mast cells from releasing their chemical contents. Cromolyn Sodium Oral Solution (Gastrocrom® / Cromoglicate) is the only medicine specifically approved by the U.S. FDA for the treatment of mastocytosis. Ketotifen is available in Canada and Europe, but is only available in the U.S. as ophthamic drops (Zaditor®)
  • Proton pump inhibitors help reduce production of gastric acid, which is often increased in patients with mastocytosis. Excess gastric acid can harm the stomach, esophagus, and small intestine.
  • Epinephrine constricts blood vessels and opens airways to maintain adequate circulation and ventilation when excessive mast cell degranulation has caused Anaphylaxis.
  • Albuterol and other beta-2 agonists open airways which can constrict in the presence of histamine.
  • Corticosteroids can be used topically, inhaled, or systemically to reduce inflammation associated with mastocytosis.
  • Immunotherapy (Allergy Shots) may rarely be beneficial to select patients with mastocytosis. The benefits of the shots should be weighed against the substantially increased risk of severe and potentially fatal anaphylaxis triggered by the shots themselves.
  • Antidepressants are an important and often overlooked tool in the treatment of mastocytosis. The stress and physical discomfort of any chronic disease may increase the likelihood of a patient developing depression. Depression and other neurological symptoms have been noted in mastocytosis (see Rogers et al). Some antidepressants such as doxepin are themselves potent antihistamines and can help relieve physical as well as cognitive symptoms.

In rare cases in which mastocytosis is cancerous or associated with a blood disorder, the patient may have to use steroids and/or chemotherapy. The novel agent imatinib (Glivec® or Gleevec®) has been found to be effective in certain types of mastocytosis.

There are clinical trials currently underway testing stem cell transplants as a form of treatment.

There are support groups for persons suffering from mastocytosis. Involvement can be emotionally therapeutic for some patients.


National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) scientists have been studying and treating patients with mastocytosis for several years at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center.

Some of the most important research advances for this rare disorder include improved diagnosis of mast cell disease and identification of growth factors and genetic mechanisms responsible for increased mast cell production. Researchers are currently evaluating approaches to improve ways to treat mastocytosis.

Scientists also are focusing on identifying disease-associated mutations (changes in genes). NIH scientists have identified some mutations, which may help researchers understand the causes of mastocytosis, improve diagnosis, and develop better treatments.

See also


  • Based on an informative page by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
  • Rogers MP, Bloomingdale K, Murawski BJ, Soter NA, Reich P, Austen KF. Mixed organic brain syndrome as a manifestation of systemic mastocytosis. Psychosom Med 1986;48:437-47. PMID 3749421.
  • Ellis DL. Treatment of telangiectasia macularis eruptiva perstans with the 585-nm flashlamp-pumped dye laser. Dermatol Surg 1996;22:33-7. PMID 8556255.
  • Godt O, Proksch E, Streit V, Christophers E. Short- and long-term effectiveness of oral and bath PUVA therapy in urticaria pigmentosa and systemic mastocytosis. Dermatology 1997;195:35-9. PMID 9267734.

By using this site you agree to our Terms of Use. Information provided on this site is for informational purposes only; it is not intended as a substitute for advice from your own medical team. The information on this site is not to be used for diagnosing or treating any health concerns you may have - please contact your physician or health care professional for all your medical needs. Please see our Terms of Use.

Home | Symptoms | Diseases | Diagnosis | Videos | Tools | Forum | About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Site Map | Advertise