Mast cells and basophils, although sharing many constitutive properties, are quite distinct in their development, functions and biological properties. Mast cell granules are composed of a macromolecular matrix of proteoglycan and neutral protease of which heparin and tryptase, respectively, are predominant. The distribution of the other major neutral protease, chymase, allows human mast cell subpopulations to be subdivided immunocytochemically. All human mast cells respond to IgE-dependent stimulation with the secretion of the preformed mediator, histamine, and the newly generated lipid-derived eicosanoids PGD2 and LTC4. Although amounts of these products vary between mast cells dispersed from different tissues, it is uncertain whether this reflects true heterogeneity. Mast cells of the human skin, but not those of other tissues, are sensitive to stimulation by substance P, compound 48/80 and other basic non-immunological stimuli. The mechanism of mediator secretion induced by these agents is distinct from that induced by IgE-dependent stimulation. However, the morphological characteristics of degranulation are similar, suggesting that the distinct biochemical pathways merge into a common pathway before effecting degranulation.
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