Review Article

Genitourinary mast cells and survival

Theoharis C. Theoharides, Julia M. Stewart


Mast cells (MCs) are ubiquitous in the body, but they have historically been associated with allergies, and most recently with regulation of immunity and inflammation. However, it remains a puzzle why so many MCs are located in the diencephalon, which regulates emotions and in the genitourinary tract, including the bladder, prostate, penis, vagina and uterus that hardly ever get allergic reactions. A number of papers have reported that MCs have estrogen, gonadotropin and corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) receptors. Moreover, animal experiments have shown that diencephalic MCs increase in number during courting in doves. We had reported that allergic stimulation of nasal MCs leads to hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) activation. Interestingly, anecdotal information indicates that female patients with mastocytosis or mast cell activation syndrome may have increased libido. Preliminary evidence also suggests that MCs may have olfactory receptors. MCs may, therefore, have been retained phylogenetically not only to “smell danger”, but to promote survival and procreation.

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