Mastocytosis is mast cell infiltration of skin or other tissues and organs. Symptoms result mainly from mediator release and include pruritus, flushing, and dyspepsia due to gastric hypersecretion. Diagnosis is by skin or bone marrow biopsy or both. Treatment is with antihistamines and control of any underlying disorder.
Mastocytosis is a group of disorders characterized by proliferation of mast cells and infiltration of the skin, other organs, or both. Pathology results mainly from release of mast cell mediators, including histamine, heparin, leukotrienes, and various inflammatory cytokines. Histamine causes many symptoms, including gastric symptoms, but other mediators also contribute. Significant organ infiltration may cause organ dysfunction. Mediator release may be triggered by physical touch, exercise, alcohol, NSAIDs, opioids, insect stings, or foods.
Etiology in many patients involves an activating mutation (D816V) in the gene coding for the stem cell factor receptor c-kit, which is present on mast cells. The result is autophosphorylation of the receptor, which causes uncontrolled mast cell proliferation.
Mastocytosis may be cutaneous or systemic.
This type typically occurs in children. Most patients present with urticaria pigmentosa, a local or diffusely distributed salmon or brown maculopapular rash caused by multiple small mast cell collections. Less common are diffuse cutaneous mastocytosis, which is skin infiltration without discrete lesions, and mastocytoma, which is a large (1 to 5 cm) solitary collection of mast cells.
This type most commonly occurs in adults and is characterized by multifocal bone marrow lesions; it often involves other organs, most commonly skin, lymph nodes, liver, spleen, or GI tract. Systemic mastocytosis is classified as
Symptoms and Signs
Skin involvement is often pruritic. Changes in temperature, contact with clothing or other materials, or use of some drugs (including NSAIDs) may worsen itching, as may consuming hot beverages, spicy foods, or alcohol or exercising. Stroking or rubbing skin lesions causes urticaria and erythema around the lesion (Darier's sign); this reaction differs from dermatographism, which involves normal skin.
Systemic symptoms can occur with any form. The most common is flushing; the most dramatic are anaphylactoid and anaphylactic reactions with syncope and shock. Other symptoms include epigastric pain due to peptic ulcer disease, nausea, vomiting, chronic diarrhea, arthralgias, bone pain, and neuropsychiatric changes (eg, irritability, depression, mood lability). Hepatic and splenic infiltration may cause portal hypertension with resultant ascites.
Diagnosis is suggested by clinical presentation. Diagnosis is confirmed by biopsy of skin lesions and sometimes of bone marrow. Multifocal, dense infiltrates of mast cells are present.
Tests may be done to rule out disorders that cause similar symptoms (eg, anaphylaxis, pheochromocytoma, carcinoid syndrome, Zollinger-Ellison syndrome). Serum gastrin level is useful to rule out Zollinger-Ellison syndrome in patients with ulcer symptoms; urinary excretion of 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA) is measured to rule out carcinoid syndrome in patients with flushing. Measuring plasma-free metanephrines or urinary metanephrines can help rule out pheochromocytoma.
If the diagnosis is uncertain, levels of mast cell mediators and their metabolites (eg, urinary N-methylhistamine, N-methylimidazole acetic acid) may be measured in plasma and urine; elevated levels support the diagnosis of mastocytosis. The level of tryptase (a marker of mast cell degranulation) is elevated in systemic mastocytosis but is typically normal in cutaneous mastocytosis. A bone scan, GI workup, and identification of the D816V c-kit mutation can also be helpful in cases where the diagnosis requires confirmation.
H1 blockers are effective for symptoms. Children with cutaneous forms require no additional treatment because most cases resolve spontaneously. Adults with cutaneous forms may be treated with psoralen plus ultraviolet light or with topical corticosteroids once/day or bid. Mastocytoma usually involutes spontaneously and requires no treatment. Cutaneous forms rarely progress to systemic disease in children but may do so in adults.
All patients should be treated with H1 and H2 blockers and should carry a prefilled epinephrine syringe. Aspirin controls flushing but may enhance leukotriene production, thereby contributing to mast cell–related symptoms; it should not be given to children because Reye's syndrome is a risk. Cromolyn 200 mg po qid (100 mg qid for children 2 to 12 yr; not to exceed 40 mg/kg/day) may help by preventing mast cell degranulation. No treatment can reduce the number of tissue mast cells. Ketotifen 2 to 4 mg po bid is inconsistently effective.
In patients with an aggressive form, interferon alfa-2b 4 million units sc once/wk to a maximum of 3 million units/day induces regression of bone lesions. Corticosteroids (eg, prednisone 40 to 60 mg po once/day for 2 to 3 wk) may be required. Splenectomy may improve survival.
Cytotoxic drugs (eg, daunomycin, etoposide, 6-mercaptopurine) may be indicated for treatment of mast cell leukemia, but efficacy is unproved. Imatinib (a tyrosine kinase receptor inhibitor) may be useful in some patients but is ineffective in patients with the D816V c-kit mutation. Midostaurin (a 2nd-generation tyrosine kinase receptor inhibitor) is under study in such patients.
Last full review/revision July 2012 by Peter J. Delves, PhD
Content last modified November 2012