Background: In addition to histamine, mast cells contain other potent mediators which can contribute to the allergic wheal reaction in the skin.
Methods: To study the association of tryptase-, chymase-, and interleukin-4 (IL-4)-positive mast cells with the size of the prick-test wheal reaction, 50 sensitive atopic subjects were prick-tested with the cow-dander allergen on the forearm skin, and the wheal area was measured. A corresponding site of intact healthy-looking skin was biopsied and examined enzyme-histochemically for tryptase and chymase. A double-staining method was used to demonstrate the immunoreactivity of IL-4 and chymase inhibitors (α1-proteinase inhibitor and α1-antichymotrypsin) in mast cells. The levels of total and cow-specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) were measured in serum.
Results: The number of tryptase- and chymase-positive mast cells or those containing chymase inhibitors revealed no correlation with the wheal reaction. In contrast, both the percentage and the number of IL-4-positive mast cells showed significant positive correlation with the wheal size per se (P<0.0001), as well as with the ratio of the wheal size by cow allergen to that by histamine control (P<0.003). In addition, tryptase-, chymase-, and IL-4-positive mast cells correlated with total IgE, but not with specific IgE, levels, and they showed no relation to the clinical manifestation of atopic disease, asthma or atopic dermatitis.
Conclusions: The novel finding was that IL-4-positive, but not tryptase- and chymase-positive, mast cells are intimately associated with the extent of the prick-test wheal.