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The New England Journal of Medicine





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January 2015



Better methods are needed to assess mastcell activation In vivo and to distinguish the activation of mast cells from that of basophils. Tryptase, a neutral protease selectively concentrated in the secretory granules of human mast cells (but not basophils), is released by mast cells together with histamine and serves as a marker of mast-cell activation.

In 17 patients with systemic mastocytosis, concentrations of tryptase in plasma were linearly related to those of histamine (P<0.01). Eleven of the 17 patients had tryptase levels of 4 to 88 ng per milliliter, indicating ongoing mast-cell activation. In each of six patients who experienced corresponding anaphylactic reactions after penicillin, aspirin, or melon ingestion, a wasp sting, exercise, or antilymphocyte globulin injection, tryptase levels in serum ranged from 9 to 75 ng per milliliter, indicating mast-cell activation during each of these events. In contrast, serum tryptase levels were less than 5 ng per milliliter in all patients presenting with myocardial disease (n = 8, 6 with hypotension) or sepsis (n = 6, 3 with hypotension) and in the controls (n = 20). One patient had a myocardial infarction after anaphylaxis in response to a wasp sting and an elevated tryptase level of 25 ng per milliliter. Thus, the plasma or serum tryptase level is a diagnostic correlate of mast-cell-related events. (N Engl J Med 1987; 316: 1622–6.)


From The New England Journal of Medicine, Schwartz, L.B., Metcalfe, D.D., Miller, J.S., et al., Tryptase Levels as an Indicator of Mast-Cell Activation in Systemic Anaphylaxis and Mastocytosis, Vol. 316, Page 1622, Copyright © 1987 Massachusetts Medical Society. Reprinted with permission.

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VCU Internal Medicine Publications