Endocannabinoids limit excessive mast cell maturation and activation in human skin

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Abstract

Background

Mast cells (MCs) crucially contribute to many inflammatory diseases. However, the physiological controls preventing excessive activities of MCs in human skin are incompletely understood.

Objective

Since endocannabinoids are important neuroendocrine MC modifiers, we investigated how stimulation/inhibition of cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors affect the biology of human skin MCsin situ.

METHODS

This was investigated in the MC-rich connective tissue sheath of organ-cultured human scalp hair follicles by quantitative (immuno)histomorphometry, ultrastructural, and quantitative PCR techniques with the use of CB1 agonists or antagonists, CB1 knockdown, or CB1 knockout mice.

Results

Kit+ MCs within the connective tissue sheath of human hair follicles express functional CB1 receptors, whose pharmacological blockade or gene silencing significantly stimulated both the degranulation and the maturation of MCs from resident progenitor cellsin situ(ie, enhanced the number of tryptase+, FcεRIα, or chymase+ connective tissue sheath-MCs). This was, at least in part, stem cell factor–dependent. CB1 agonists counteracted the MC-activating effects of classical MC secretagogues. Similar phenomena were observed in CB1 knockout mice, attesting to thein vivorelevance of this novel MC-inhibitory mechanism.

Conclusion

By using human hair follicle organ culture as an unconventional, but clinically relevant model system for studying the biology of MCsin situ, we show that normal skin MCs are tightly controlled by the endocannabinoid system. This limits excessive activation and maturation of MCs from resident progenitors via “tonic” CB1 stimulation by locally synthesized endocannabinoids. The excessive numbers and activation of MCs in allergic and other chronic inflammatory skin diseases may partially arise from resident intracutaneous MC progenitors, for example, because of insufficient CB1 stimulation. Therefore, CB1 stimulation is a promising strategy for the future management of allergy and MC-dependent skin diseases.

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