We investigated the ability of antigen-IgE interactions to stimulate histamine release from human infant cutaneous mast cells. Skin obtained at circumcision contained numerous perivascular mast cells, as assessed by light and electron microscopy. The histamine content of this tissue averaged 17.7 ng (+/- 1.5 SEM)/mg wet weight. Challenge of 200-microns thick sections of unsensitized skin with varying concentrations of monoclonal murine antibodies to human IgE caused no net release of histamine. After skin sections were incubated in the presence of 5 micrograms/ml of human myeloma IgE (S) for 120 min at 37 degrees C, monoclonal anti-IgE challenge resulted in 40.1% (+/- 6.0 SEM) histamine release. Similar passive sensitization with 1/20 dilutions of serum from humans expressing IgE to purified Juniperus sabinoides (JS) antigen rendered the tissue responsive to specific antigen challenge. Dose-related histamine release occurred over 30 min with optimal release of 12.6% (+/- 2.4 SEM) after stimulation with 100 ng/ml of JS antigen. This reaction required sensitization with serum containing IgE to JS and was antigen-specific. Optimal reactions to antigen occurred at 3 mM added Ca++, 34 degrees C to 37 degrees C, pH 7.2. Antigen-induced release was markedly influenced by the added Ca++ concentration; no release occurred in the absence of Ca++, 54% of the optimal response was observed at 2 mM Ca++, and 28% of the optimal response occurred at 4 mM Ca++. The addition of Mg++ did not influence antigen-induced release. The results of this study provide functional evidence that 1) human infant cutaneous mast cells express Fc-epsilon receptors; 2) these receptors are largely unoccupied in vivo; and 3) stimulation of passively sensitized infant mast cells with anti-IgE or specific antigen leads to immediate histamine release. This new system should permit detailed in vitro studies of immediate hypersensitivity reactions in human skin.

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