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The role of mast cells in functional GI disorders
  1. Mira M Wouters1,
  2. Maria Vicario2,3,
  3. Javier Santos2,3
  1. 1Translational Research Center for Gastrointestinal Disorders (TARGID), University Hospital Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
  2. 2Neuro-immuno-gastroenterology Laboratory, Digestive Diseases Research Unit. Vall d'Hebron Institut de Recerca, Department of Gastroenterology, Hospital Universitari Vall d'Hebron & Facultat de Medicina, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
  3. 3Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red de Enfermedades Hepáticas y Digestivas (CIBERehd), Barcelona, Spain
  1. Correspondence to Dr Maria Vicario, Laboratory of Neuro-Immuno-Gastroenterology, Digestive System Research Unit, Department of Gastroenterology, Vall d'Hebron Institut de Recerca & Hospital Universitario Vall d'Hebron. Paseo Vall d'Hebron 119–129, Barcelona 08035, Spain; maria.vicario{at}


Functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) are characterized by chronic complaints arising from disorganized brain-gut interactions leading to dysmotility and hypersensitivity. The two most prevalent FGIDs, affecting up to 16–26% of worldwide population, are functional dyspepsia and irritable bowel syndrome. Their etiopathogenic mechanisms remain unclear, however, recent observations reveal low-grade mucosal inflammation and immune activation, in association with impaired epithelial barrier function and aberrant neuronal sensitivity. These findings come to challenge the traditional view of FGIDs as pure functional disorders, and relate the origin to a tangible organic substrate. The mucosal inflammatory infiltrate is dominated by mast cells, eosinophils and intraepithelial lymphocytes in the intestine of FGIDs. It is well established that mast cell activation can generate epithelial and neuro-muscular dysfunction and promote visceral hypersensitivity and altered motility patterns in FGIDs, postoperative ileus, food allergy and inflammatory bowel disease. This review will discuss the role of mucosal mast cells in the gastrointestinal tract with a specific focus on recent advances in disease mechanisms and clinical management in irritable bowel syndrome and functional dyspepsia.


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