The functions of mast cells in human graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) are unknown. We studied 56 patients who had an allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation (alloHCT) with a biopsy for diagnosis of gastrointestinal tract (GIT) GVHD before any treatment (including steroids): 35 with GIT GVHD, 21 HCT recipients whose biopsies did not confirm GVHD, and 9 with a new diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) as a comparison. The median number of mast cells (mean of CD1171 cells, counted in 3 selected spots under 403 magnification) was similar between patients with GVHD (59 cells) and those without GVHD (60 cells). However, the median number of mast cells was significantly associated with maximum clinical stage of GIT GVHD; the lowest counts of mast cells were observed in the highest clinical stage of GIT GVHD (stage 1, 80; stage 2, 69; stage 3, 54; stage 4, 26; P 5.01). Moreover, every decrease by 10 mast cells was associated with increased nonrelapse mortality through 1 year (hazard ratio, 0.77; 95% confidence interval, 0.59-1.00; P 5.05). AlloHCT recipients all had significantly fewer mast cells, even those without GVHD compared with those with IBD (median, 59 vs 119; P,.01). The median number of GIT mast cells was also significantly lower in patients who received myeloablative conditioning (61.5 cells) than in those who received reduced intensity conditioning (78 cells) in the entire study population (P 5.02). We conclude that GIT mast cells are depleted in all alloHCT patients, more prominently in those receiving myeloablative conditioning and those with severe GIT GVHD. Our novel findings warrant further investigation into the biological effects of mast cells in GIT GVHD.
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© 2020 by The American Society of Hematology
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