Mast cell effects on esophageal smooth muscle and their potential role in eosinophilic esophagitis and Achalasia

Melissa Nelson, Xi Zhang, Zui Pan, Stuart Jon Spechler, Rhonda F. Souza

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Mast cells and eosinophils are the key effector cells of allergic disorders. Although most studies on eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), an allergic disorder of the esophagus, have focused on the role of eosinophils, recent studies suggest a major role for mast cells in causing the clinical manifestations of this disease. Cellular and animal studies have demonstrated that mast cells can cause esophageal muscle cells to proliferate and differentiate into a more contractile phenotype, and that mediators released by degranulating mast cells such as tryptase and histamine can activate smooth muscle contraction pathways. Thus, activated mast cells in the esophageal muscularis propria might cause esophageal motility abnormalities, including the failure of lower esophageal sphincter relaxation typical of achalasia. In addition, mast cells have been implicated in the pathogenesis of a number of neurodegenerative disorders of the central nervous system such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, because degranulating mast cells release proinflammatory and cytotoxic mediators capable of damaging neurons. Such mast cell degranulation in the myenteric plexus of the esophagus could cause the loss of enteric neurons that characterizes achalasia. In this report, we review the molecular mechanisms of esophageal smooth muscle contraction, and how mast cells products might affect that muscle and cause neurodegeneration in the esophagus. Based on these data, we present our novel, conceptual model for an allergy-induced form of achalasia mediated by mast cell activation in the esophageal muscularis propria.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)G319-G327
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Allergy
  • Degranulation
  • Lower esophageal sphincter
  • Motility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Physiology (medical)


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