Histamine-containing mast cells and their relationship to NGFr-immunoreactive nerves in prurigo nodularis: a reappraisal

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The mast cell, which is a histamine-containing cell, has been found to have far more functions in skin inflammation than hitherto understood. To investigate the appearance of mast cells in prurigo nodularis, histamine immunohistochemistry in combination with nerve growth factor receptor (NGFr) double-staining as well as electron microscopic studies were performed. The results revealed that the histamine-containing cell number was increased in the lesional dermis. The mast cell size was also increased and the shape had become more dendritic. They tended to contact the epidermis and even infiltrated into it. In the histamine and NGFr double-staining, both an increased histamine-containing mast cell number and an increased number of NGFr-immunoreactive nerve fiber profiles were revealed in the upper dermis of the prurigo nodularis lesional skin. Mast cells were seen in close vicinity to NGFr-positive nerves and sometimes even seemingly to contact single nerve fibers. At the ultrastructural level, it is obvious that the mast cell bodies become larger, having more abundant cytoplasm and organelles (e.g. mitochondria), but comparatively fewer characteristic granules. Mast cells were often observed to sprout long dendrites, with or without granules. The cells were also frequently seen to contact other cell types, and a mast cell infiltration into the epidermis was also found. The statistical results of mast cell numbers showed a significant increase in prurigo nodularis lesional skin compared to the normal controls. The present results further indicate that mast cells, together with cutaneous nerve fibers, are actively involved in the pathogenesis of the disease.

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