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Localization of interleukin (IL) -4 but not IL-5 to human mast cell secretory granules by immunoelectron microscopy


Bradding Department of Respiratory Medicine, Glenfield Hospital, Groby Rd, Leicester LE3 9QP, UK.



Human mast cells synthesize and secrete many cytokines of relevance to the pathogenesis of allergic diseases such as asthma and rhinitis. In particular, interleukin (IL) -4 and IL-5 are likely to play key roles in the development of the inflammatory response that characterizes these diseases. Immunohistochemical studies on human nasal and bronchial mucosal biopsies suggest that IL-4 and IL-5 may be stored preformed in mast cells.


To identify whether IL-4 and IL-5 are stored within mast cell secretory granules.


We used immunogold electron microscopic analysis on bronchial mucosa and lung parenchyma from resected lung specimens, and a nasal mucosal biopsy from a patient with active allergic rhinitis. Samples were fixed in 4% paraformaldehyde plus 0.5% glutaraldehyde and processed into Lowicryl K4M resin by the ‘Progressive Lowering of Temperature’ technique. Ultrathin sections were stained immunohistochemically by an indirect immunogold method.


Immunoreactivity for IL-4, but not IL-5, was localized to the granules of mast cells in all tissue samples. IL-5 was localized to the matrix of eosinophil granules in these samples, but neither cytokine was detected in T cells. IL-4 immunoreactivity increased in the granules of mast cells 24 h after immunoglobulin (Ig) E-dependent activation (mean 17.5 ± 1.4 gold particles per granule) compared with nonactivated mast cells (mean 6.8 ± 0.8 gold particles per granule, P < 0.001), suggesting replenishment of stores by newly generated protein. Immunoreactive IL-5 remained undetectable in mast cells 24 h after activation, a time point at which they are known to secrete large quantities of this cytokine.


Human mast cells store IL-4 within the matrix of their granules. Very few, if any, lung or nasal mast cells store IL-5. A store of preformed IL-4 within mast cell granules is likely to have an important influence during the initiation and maintenance of the allergic immunological response.

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