What Is the Value of Counting Mast Cells in Gastrointestinal Mucosal Biopsies?

Nicole C. Panarelli, Jason L. Hornick, Rhonda K. Yantiss

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Neoplastic and nonneoplastic mast cell disorders can cause diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal pain that result from heightened release of mast cell mediators. Systemic mastocytosis is characterized by neoplastic mast cell aggregates in the bone marrow and other sites, particularly the skin and gastrointestinal tract. In this situation, extramedullary mast cell aggregates display atypical morphology, with aberrant immunostaining for CD25 in addition to staining for other mast cell markers, such as mast cell tryptase and CD117. Morphologically normal mast cells have also been implicated in nonneoplastic conditions. For example, increased mast cell numbers have been reported in the mucosal biopsy samples from patients with irritable bowel syndrome and hereditary alpha-tryptasemia. Patients with mast cell activation syndrome presumably experience symptoms related to the aberrant elaboration of histamine and other mediators from normal-appearing mast cells present in normal numbers. Unfortunately, similarities in terminology among these biologically distinct clinical conditions have caused considerable diagnostic confusion among clinical colleagues, resulting in frequent requests for pathologists to quantify and characterize mast cells in normal gastrointestinal biopsy samples from patients with diarrheal symptoms. The purpose of this review is to summarize the available data related to mast cell assessment in the gastrointestinal tract and provide pathologists with practical information so that they can help their clinical colleagues manage patients with presumed mast cell disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)100005
Number of pages1
JournalModern pathology : an official journal of the United States and Canadian Academy of Pathology, Inc
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2023


  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • mast cell activation syndrome
  • mastocytic enterocolitis
  • systemic mastocytosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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