Aneurysms are formed when elastic tissue is degraded by proteases and MMPs; the vessel is thinned due to smooth muscle loss; and the endothelium is broken down, resulting in inflammation. There is a significant body of evidence linking aneurysm formation and growth to mast cell activity.
A number of studies have found that mast cells are present in larger numbers in vasculature near aneurysms. Mast cells are increased in cerebral arteries of patients who died from subarachnoid hemorrhage. In particular, mast cell number is higher in arteries close to the rupture site. Mast cell count has been linked previously to aneurysm instability. Another study found that activated mast cells were increased in the aortas of patients who died from abdominal aortic aneurysms. Increased mast cells are also found in ascending aortic aneurysms. Mast cell density is a predictor for occurrence of ascending aortic aneurysm.
Chymase activity has been heavily implicated in aneurysm physiology. One study found that levels of angiotensin II were unlikely to induce development of aneurysm, but that degradation of the vessel by chymase may weaken the aneurysm and increase risk of rupture. Increased chymase activity was found in an additional fourteen patients having aortic aneurysms repaired. In thoracic aortic aneurysm patients, chymase positive mast cells were found in inflamed areas. Chymase may participate in the generation of reactive oxygen species. In abdominal aortic aneurysm samples, most players in the renin-angiotensin system, including chymase and cathepsins, are increased.
Serpin A3, a protease inhibitor, normally regulates activity of elastase, chymase and cathepsin G. It is thought that deficiency of this molecule may worsen damage caused by chymase.
Mast cell proteases, like tryptase and chymase, may be involved in the formation of aneurysms. Erosion of the endothelium occurred in the thrombosed region of the vessel, followed by decreased oxygen supply to the underlying vessel. Tryptase and chymase may participate in rupture of the vessel and intravascular hemorrhage. Adrenomedullin, a mast cell mediator, is found to be strongly expressed in mast cells to local to aneurysms. Adrenomedullin suppresses formation of the extracellular matrix.
Serum tryptase levels in abdominal aortic aneurysms correlated well with growth of aneurysm as well as risk of complications during repair. Tryptase deficient mice were completely protected against developing this type of aneurysm. Tryptase deficiency reduced expression of cathepsins, as well as activation of endothelial cells and movement of monocytes. Tryptase induces release of cathepsins that trigger apoptosis, so this may be a mechanism.
5-lipoxygenase is the enzyme that drives leukotriene formation. Mice deficient in this molecule were protected against aneurysm formation. They also had less inflammation and apoptosis, lower IL-6 and IFN-γ. Mast cell degranulation augmented aneurysm formation while mast cell stabilizer cromolyn decreased it. Another study found that treatment with tranilast, another mast cell stabilizer, decreased the diameter of the aorta.
Leukotriene C4 and 5-lipoxygenase are increased in patients with abdominal aortic aneurysms, but leukotriene B4 is not. Leukotrienes increase release of MMPs and encourage matrix degradation. Leukotrienes may be a therapeutic target to slow aneurysm progression.
Kennedy, Simon, et al. Mast cells and vascular diseases. Pharmacology & Therapeutics 138 (2013) 53-65.
Bot, Ilze, et al. Mast cells: Pivotal players in cardiovascular diseases. Current Cardiology Reviews, 2008, 4, 170-178.