Do mast cells link obesity and asthma?

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Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the lungs. Both the number of cases and severity of asthma have been increasing without a clear explanation. Recent evidence suggests that obesity, which has also been increasing alarmingly, may worsen or precipitate asthma, but there is little evidence of how obesity may contribute to lung inflammation. We propose that mast cells are involved in both asthma and obesity by being the target and source of adipocytokines, ‘alarmins’ such as interleukin-9 (IL-9) and interleukin-33 (IL-33), and stress molecules including corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and neurotensin (NT), secreted in response to the metabolic burden. In particular, CRH and NT have synergistic effects on mast cell secretion of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). IL-33 augments VEGF release induced by substance P (SP) and tumor necrosis factor (TNF) release induced by NT. Both IL-9 and IL-33 also promote lung mast cell infiltration and augment allergic inflammation. These molecules are also expressed in human mast cells leading to autocrine effects. Obese patients are also less sensitive to glucocorticoids and bronchodilators. Development of effective mast cell inhibitors may be a novel approach for the management of both asthma and obesity. Certain flavonoid combinations may be a promising new treatment approach.

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