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Open Access Review

Activation/Inhibition of mast cells by supra-optimal antigen concentrations

Michael Huber

Author Affiliations

Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Immunology, University Clinic, RWTH Aachen University, Pauwelsstr. 30, 52074, Aachen, Germany

Cell Communication and Signaling 2013, 11:7  doi:10.1186/1478-811X-11-7

Published: 22 January 2013


Mast cells (MCs) are tissue resident cells of hemopoietic origin and are critically involved in allergic diseases. MCs bind IgE by means of their high-affinity receptor for IgE (FcεRI). The FcεRI belongs to a family of multi-chain immune recognition receptors and is activated by cross-linking in response to multivalent antigens (Ags)/allergens. Activation of the FcεRI results in immediate release of preformed granular substances (e.g. histamine, heparin, and proteases), generation of arachidonic acid metabolites, and production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. The FcεRI shows a remarkable, bell-shaped dose-response behavior with weak induction of effector responses at both low and high (so-called supra-optimal) Ag concentrations. This is significantly different from many other receptors, which reach a plateau phase in response to high ligand concentrations. To explain this unusual dose-response behavior of the FcεRI, scientists in the past have drawn parallels to so-called precipitin curves resulting from titration of Ag against a fixed concentration of antibody (Ab) in solution (a.k.a. Heidelberger curves). Thus, for high, supra-optimal Ag concentrations one could assume that every IgE-bound FcεRI formed a monovalent complex with “its own Ag”, thus resulting in marginal induction of effector functions due to absence of receptor cross-linking. However, this was never proven to be the case. More recently, careful studies of FcεRI activation and signaling events in MCs in response to supra-optimal Ag concentrations have suggested a molecular explanation for the descending part of this bell-shaped curve. It is obvious now that extensive FcεRI/IgE/Ag clusters are formed and inhibitory molecules and signalosomes are engaged in response to supra-optimal cross-linking (amongst them the Src family kinase Lyn and the inositol-5′-phosphatase SHIP1) and they actively down-regulate MC effector responses. Thus, the analysis of MC signaling triggered by supra-optimal crosslinking holds great potential for identifying novel targets for pharmacologic therapeutic intervention to benefit patients with acute and chronic allergic diseases.

Mast cell; Allergy; SHIP1; Lyn; PKC-δ; High-affinity receptor for IgE; Dose-response behavior; Inhibitory signalosome