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Summary: Mast cells are known to be the main effector cells in the elicitation of the IgE-mediated allergic response. The specific location of mast cells within tissues that interface the external environment, and the extent of their functional capacity, including the ability to phagocytose and to produce and secrete a wide spectrum of mediators, have led investigators to propose a potential role for mast cells in innate immune responses. Certain microorganisms have been found to interact either directly or indirectly with mast cells. This interaction results in mast cell activation and mediator release which elicit an inflammatory response or direct killing leading to bacterial clearance. The in vivo relevance of these in vitro observations has been demonstrated by the use of complement-deficient and/or mast cell-deficient and mast cell-reconstituted mice. It thus has been shown that both C3 and mast cell- and tumor necrosis factor-a-dependent recruitment of circulating leukocytes with bactericidal properties are crucial to a full response in certain models of acute infection. Modulation of mast cell numbers in vivo was also found to affect the host response against bacterial infection. Thus, mast cells do have a role in innate immunity in defined animal models of bacterial infection. Whether mast cells participate in innate immune responses in the protection of the human host against bacteria remains to be determined.