Mast cells (MCs) are best known as key immune players in immunoglobulin E (IgE)-dependent allergic reactions. In recent years, several lines of evidence have suggested that MCs might play an important role in several pathological conditions, including autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), an animal model for MS. Since their first description in MS plaques in the late 1800s, much effort has been put into elucidating the contribution of MCs to the development of central nervous system (CNS) autoimmunity. Mouse models of MC-deficiency have provided a valuable experimental tool for dissecting MC involvement in MS and EAE. However, to date there is still major controversy concerning the function of MCs in these diseases. Indeed, although MCs have been classically proposed as having a detrimental and pro-inflammatory role, recent literature has questioned and resized the contribution of MCs to the pathology of MS and EAE. In this review, we will present the main evidence obtained in MS and EAE on this topic, and discuss the critical and controversial aspects of such evidence.
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