Mast cells in vascular disease: Part 3

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.


Third spacing

The human body essentially keeps fluids in two spaces called compartments.  The first compartment is inside of cells.  This is called intracellular fluid.  It holds about 60% of the body’s fluids.  The second compartment is outside of the cells in the extracellular fluid, which holds about 40% of the body’s fluids.  This second compartment includes spaces like the interstitial compartment and the intravascular compartment.  The interstitial compartment is the fluid that surrounds the cells in tissues.  The intravascular component is mostly blood. 

Third spacing is when body fluids collect somewhere that is not in one of the two compartments where your body can use it.  When fluids are inside cells, your body can use it for chemical reactions.  When fluids are in the interstitial and intravascular compartments, your body can use it for lubrication, chemical reactions and moving chemicals from one place to another.  Fluid in third spaces is outside of the circulatory system and cannot be used by the body.
A common third space is in the abdominal cavity.  When fluid becomes trapped between the tissues and organs of the abdomen, it is called “ascites.”  When fluid accumulates in the interstitial area around the lungs, it is called “pulmonary edema.”  When fluid is found between the layers of the skin or mucous membranes, it is called “angioedema.”
Third spacing is a problem for multiple reasons.  The first is that it compresses the structures around the fluid, like when angioedema puts pressure on the throat and makes it difficult to breathe.  The fluid sometimes affects organ function.  Another reason third spacing is problematic is because it can cause the fluid level in the circulatory system to drop.  This means the amount of blood moving through the body is less than it should be, which decreases blood pressure and increases heart rate.  This can be very dangerous.  If there is not enough blood for the heart to pump, it will stop pumping.
People with a lot of third spacing often have symptoms of dehydration.  This includes things like excessive thirst, fatigue, and reduced urine output. 
Third spacing occurs as a result of anaphylaxis.  It is also a common problem for people with mast cell disease in the absence of anaphylaxis due to “leaking” of chemicals like histamine that push fluid out of the blood vessels and into the tissues.  Fluid replacement is very important to staying stable.
There is a lot of anecdotal information that suggests that IV fluids are helpful to counteracting third spacing in people with mast cell disease.  I get 2L of fluids overnight three times a week, and it has helped immensely.  For me, the IV fluids have stabilized my blood pressure, decreased my heart rate and keep my GI tract moving.  My abdominal pain has improved significantly since starting the IV fluids. My energy is better.  I don’t think that it has been formally written up in article form, but this is a treatment that is quickly gaining momentum in the mast cell community.