Mast cell tryptase: a review of its physiology and clinical significance

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Mast cells, which are granulocytes found in peripheral tissue, play a central role in inflammatory and immediate allergic reactions. β-Tryptase is a neutral serine protease and is the most abundant mediator stored in mast cell granules. The release of β-tryptase from the secretory granules is a characteristic feature of mast cell degranulation. While its biological function has not been fully clarified, mast cell β-tryptase has an important role in inflammation and serves as a marker of mast cell activation. β-Tryptase activates the protease activated receptor type 2. It is involved in airway homeostasis, vascular relaxation and contraction, gastrointestinal smooth muscle activity and intestinal transport, and coagulation. Serum mast cell β-tryptase concentration is increased in anaphylaxis and in other allergic conditions. It is increased in systemic mastocytosis and other haematological conditions. Serum β-tryptase measurements can be used to distinguish mast cell-dependent reactions from other systemic disturbances such as cardiogenic shock, which can present with similar clinical manifestations. Increased β-tryptase levels are highly suggestive of an immunologically mediated reaction but may also occur following direct mast cell activation. Patients with increased mast cell β-tryptase levels must be investigated for an allergic cause. However, patients without increased mast cell tryptase levels should be investigated if the clinical picture suggests severe anaphylaxis.

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