Mast Cell Activation Disease and Microbiotic Interactions

Lawrence B. Afrin, Alexander Khoruts

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Purpose: This article reviews the diagnostically challenging presentation of mast cell activation disease (MCAD) and current thoughts regarding interactions between microbiota and MCs. Methods: A search for all studies on interactions between mast cells, mast cell activation disease, and microbiota published on and between 1960 and 2015 was conducted using the search terms mast cell, mastocyte, mastocytosis, mast cell activation, mast cell activation disease, mast cell activation syndrome, microbiome, microbiota. A manual review of the references from identified studies was also conducted. Studies were excluded if they were not accessible electronically or by interlibrary loan. Findings: Research increasingly is revealing essential involvement of MCs in normal human biology and in human disease. Via many methods, normal MCs - present sparsely in every tissue - sense their environment and reactively exert influences that, directly and indirectly, locally and remotely, improve health. The dysfunctional MCs of the "iceberg" of MCAD, on the other hand, sense abnormally, react abnormally, activate constitutively, and sometimes (in mastocytosis, the "tip" of the MCAD iceberg) even proliferate neoplastically. MCAD causes chronic multisystem illness generally, but not necessarily, of an inflammatory ± allergic theme and with great variability in behavior among patients and within any patient over time. Furthermore, the range of signals to which MCs respond and react include signals from the body's microbiota, and regardless of whether an MCAD patient has clonal mastocytosis or the bulk of the iceberg now known as MC activation syndrome (also suspected to be clonal but without significant MC proliferation), dysfunctional MCs interact as dysfunctionally with those microbiota as they interact with other human tissues, potentially leading to many adverse consequences. Implications: Interactions between microbiota and MCs are complex at baseline. The potential for both pathology and benefit may be amplified when compositionally variant microbiota interact with aberrant MCs in various types of MCAD. More research is needed to better understand and leverage these interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)941-953
Number of pages13
JournalClinical Therapeutics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jun 3 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier HS Journals, Inc. All rights reserved.


  • mast cell
  • mast cell activation disease
  • mast cell activation syndrome
  • mastocytosis
  • microbiota


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