Research Article

Bronchoalveolar mast cells in extrinsic asthma: a mechanism for the initiation of antigen specific bronchoconstriction.

Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1985; 291 doi: (Published 05 October 1985) Cite this as: Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1985;291:923
  1. K C Flint,
  2. K B Leung,
  3. B N Hudspith,
  4. J Brostoff,
  5. F L Pearce,
  6. N M Johnson


    Bronchoalveolar lavage performed in 10 patients with extrinsic asthma and 14 controls yielded similar recoveries of fluid and cells. Mast cells and eosinophils, however, formed a greater proportion of the cells recovered from the asthmatic subjects (p less than 0.001 for mast cells; p less than 0.01 for eosinophils), the histamine content of the lavage cells being correspondingly increased (p less than 0.01). Both the percentage of mast cells and the histamine content of lavage cells were significantly inversely correlated with the forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1; expressed as percentage of predicted) and with the ratio of FEV1 to forced vital capacity before lavage. There was also a significant inverse correlation between the concentration of histamine required to produce a 20% fall in FEV1 and the percentage of mast cells recovered (p less than 0.05). When incubated with antihuman IgE bronchoalveolar mast cells from asthmatic subjects released a significantly increased proportion of total cellular histamine than cells from control subjects at all effective doses of anti-IgE. By contrast, dose response curves for IgE dependent histamine release from peripheral blood leucocytes were similar in asthmatics and controls. Specific antigen led to release of histamine from bronchoalveolar cells and peripheral blood leucocytes of asthmatic subjects but not controls. Lying superficially within the airways, bronchoalveolar mast cells would be readily exposed to inhaled antigen and would release mediators directly on to the airway surface. Their immunological response suggests that they are likely to be important in the pathogenesis of airflow obstruction in asthma.