PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles

Immunology - Physiology - Respiratory Medicine

Increased Mast Cell Density and Airway Responses to Allergic and Non-Allergic Stimuli in a Sheep Model of Chronic Asthma
Published: Monday, May 14, 2012
Author: Joanne Van der Velden et al.

by Joanne Van der Velden, Donna Barker, Garry Barcham, Emmanuel Koumoundouros, Kenneth Snibson


Increased mast cell (MC) density and changes in their distribution in airway tissues is thought to contribute significantly to the pathophysiology of asthma. However, the time sequence for these changes and how they impact small airway function in asthma is not fully understood. The aim of the current study was to characterise temporal changes in airway MC density and correlate these changes with functional airway responses in sheep chronically challenged with house dust mite (HDM) allergen.

Methodology/Principal Findings

MC density was examined on lung tissue from four spatially separate lung segments of allergic sheep which received weekly challenges with HDM allergen for 0, 8, 16 or 24 weeks. Lung tissue was collected from each segment 7 days following the final challenge. The density of tryptase-positive and chymase-positive MCs (MCT and MCTC respectively) was assessed by morphometric analysis of airway sections immunohistochemically stained with antibodies against MC tryptase and chymase.MCT and MCTC density was increased in small bronchi following 24 weeks of HDM challenges compared with controls (P<0.05). The MCTC/MCT ratio was significantly increased in HDM challenged sheep compared to controls (P<0.05). MCT and MCTC density was inversely correlated with allergen-induced increases in peripheral airway resistance after 24 weeks of allergen exposure (P<0.05). MCT density was also negatively correlated with airway responsiveness after 24 challenges (P<0.01).


MCT and MCTC density in the small airways correlates with better lung function in this sheep model of chronic asthma. Whether this finding indicates that under some conditions mast cells have protective activities in asthma, or that other explanations are to be considered requires further investigation.