Systemic Mastocytosis

Updated: May 09, 2017
  • Author: Koyamangalath Krishnan, MD, FRCP, FACP; Chief Editor: Emmanuel C Besa, MD  more...
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Overview

Practice Essentials

Systemic mastocytosis, often termed systemic mast cell disease (SMCD), is a myeloproliferative neoplasm characterized by infiltration of clonally derived mast cells in different tissues, including bone marrow (see the image below), skin, the gastrointestinal tract, the liver, and the spleen. [1, 2, 3, 4] Median survival ranges from 198 months in patients with indolent systemic mastocytosis to 41 months in aggressive systemic mastocytosis and 2 months in mast cell leukemia.

Bone marrow aspirate, Romanowsky stain, high-defin Bone marrow aspirate, Romanowsky stain, high-definition magnification. Diagnosis is mastocytosis, and morphology is abnormal mast cells. This is a bone marrow smear from a patient with systemic mastocytosis. Several mast cells are present in this photograph. These mast cells are larger than normal mast cells and have more irregularly shaped nuclear outlines and less densely packed mast cell granules. Courtesy of the American Society of Hematology Slide Bank. Used with permission.

Signs and symptoms

Manifestations of systemic mastocytosis may include the following:

  • Anemia and coagulopathy
  • Abdominal pain is the most common GI symptom, followed, by diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
  • Symptoms and signs of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Pruritus and flushing
  • Anaphylactoid reaction (eg, to Hymenoptera stings, general anesthetics, intravenous contrast media, other drugs, foods) [5, 6]

Findings on physical examination may include the following:

  • Signs of anemia (eg, pallor)
  • Hepatomegaly (27%)
  • Splenomegaly (37%)
  • Lymphadenopathy (21%)
  • Urticaria (41%)
  • Osteolysis and pathological fractures (rare)

See Presentation for more detail.

Diagnosis

Findings on blood studies may include the following:

  • Anemia (45% of patients)
  • Thrombocytopenia
  • Leukocytosis
  • Some patients have eosinophilia, basophilia, thrombocytosis, and monocytosis
  • The combination of anemia, thrombocytopenia, hypoalbuminemia, and excess bone marrow blasts (>5%) portends a poor prognosis [7]

Measurement of serum tryptase may reveal the following:

  • Total serum tryptase levels of 20 ng/mL or higher in a baseline serum sample with a total–to–beta-tryptase ratio greater than 20:1 [8]
  • Serum tryptase levels of 11.5 ng/mL or higher (the cut-off value used in more recent studies) are found in more than 50% of patients

The following imaging studies may be necessary to identify the extent and stage of the disease:

  • GI radiography, ultrasonography, and liver-spleen computed tomography scanning in patients with abdominal pain
  • Skeletal surveys and bone CT scanning in patients with suspected bone involvement

Diagnostic procedures are as follows:

  • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy are essential
  • GI procedures (eg, barium studies, endoscopy) are indicated for patients with GI symptoms
  • Liver biopsy can show mast cell infiltration in patients with hepatomegaly
  • Skin biopsy may be warranted in patients with cutaneous manifestations

The major diagnostic criterion for systemic mastocytosis is the presence of dense infiltrates of mast cells in bone marrow or other extracutaneous tissues. Mast cells should be seen in aggregates of 15 or more.

Major criteria may be absent in early disease. In this situation, the minor criteria are used to make the pathologic diagnosis. Three of the following four minor criteria are required to make the diagnosis:

  • Atypical mast cell morphology in 25% or more of the mast cells
  • Expression of CD2 and/or CD25 in addition to normal mast cell markers
  • Serum/plasma tryptase levels greater than 20 ng/mL
  • A codon-816 c- kit mutation in peripheral blood, bone marrow, or involved tissue

Types of mastocytosis (World Health Organization criteria) are as follows:

  • Cutaneous mastocytosis
  • Indolent systemic mastocytosis (systemic mast cell disease)
  • Systemic mastocytosis with associated clonal hematologic non–mast cell lineage disease
  • Aggressive systemic mastocytosis
  • Mast cell leukemia
  • Mast cell sarcoma
  • Extracutaneous mastocytoma

See Workup for more detail.

Management

Therapy for systemic mastocytosis is primarily symptomatic; no therapy is curative. Treatment modalities include the management of the following:

  • Anaphylaxis and related symptoms
  • Pruritus and flushing
  • Intestinal malabsorption

Agents for symptomatic relief include the following:

  • Epinephrine is used in acute anaphylaxis
  • H1 and H2 receptor blockers are used to control anaphylactic symptoms
  • Corticosteroids have been used to control malabsorption, ascites, and bone pain and to prevent anaphylaxis
  • Cromolyn is helpful for decreasing bone pain and headaches and for improving skin symptoms
  • Patients with osteopenia that does not respond to therapy may receive a trial of interferon alfa-2b
  • First-generation histamine H1 antagonists (eg, diphenhydramine, hydroxyzine) have been used to treat pruritus and flushing
  • Histamine H2 antagonists and proton pump inhibitors have been used to treat gastric hypersecretion and peptic ulcer disease
  • Aspirin can be used when H1 and H2 receptor blockers do not prevent vascular collapse
  • Mast cell stabilizers (eg, ketotifen) have been used to treat pruritus and whealing
  • Leukotriene antagonists (eg, zafirlukast, montelukast) have been used
  • Cromolyn is helpful for decreasing bone pain and headaches and for improving skin symptoms
  • Psoralen ultraviolet A therapy may provide transient relief of pruritus and may cause fading of skin lesions
  • Anticholinergics have been used in the treatment of diarrhea
  • Disodium cromolyn has been used in the treatment of abdominal cramping and diarrhea

Chemotherapy has not been particularly successful in the management of systemic mastocytosis, but the following regimens have been tried [9] :

  • Interferon-alfa may be beneficial, especially in patients with aggressive systemic mastocytosis
  • 2-Chlorodeoxyadenosine (cladribine [Leustatin])
  • Thalidomide in advanced disease
  • Imatinib mesylate (Gleevec) in patients who do not have mutations of the codon 816 on the c- kit gene and carry the wild-type kit, or who carry the FIP1L1-PDGFRA rearrangement [10]
  • Midostaurin (Rydapt) is approved by the FDA for aggressive systemic mastocytosis (ASM), systemic mastocytosis with associated hematological neoplasm (SM-AHN), or mast cell leukemia (MCL), collectively referred to as advanced systemic mastocytosis [11]

See Treatment and Medication for more detail.

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Background

Systemic mastocytosis, often termed systemic mast cell disease (SMCD), is a heterogeneous clonal disorder of the mast cell and its precursor cells. It is classified as a myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) as per the 2008 revision of the WHO classification of myeloid neoplasms. [12] The clinical symptoms and signs of systemic mastocytosis result from the accumulation of these clonally derived mast cells in different tissues, including bone marrow, skin, the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, the liver, and the spleen. [1, 2, 13, 3, 4]

Systemic mastocytosis is characterized by mast cell infiltration of extracutaneous organs, which is in contrast to cutaneous mast cell disorders, which involve only the skin. Ehrlich first described mast cells in 1877 when he found cells that stained metachromatically with aniline dyes. [14] He called these cells "mast Zellen" because the cells were distended with granules (ie, the botanical definition of mast, which refers to an accumulation of nuts on the forest floor).

Cutaneous mastocytosis was identified in the late 19th century. Sangster first described urticaria pigmentosa, which is one of the cutaneous mast cell disorders, in 1878. In 1933, Touraine suggested that this disease could involve internal organs. In 1949, Ellis first established at autopsy that cutaneous mastocytosis can also involve internal organs. An autopsy of a 1-year-old infant revealed mast cell infiltration of the bone marrow, lymph nodes, spleen, kidneys, and pancreas.

For patient education information, see the Allergies Center, as well as Allergic Reaction and Severe Allergic Reaction (Anaphylactic Shock).

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Pathophysiology

Systemic mastocytosis (systemic mast cell disease) is characterized by mast cell infiltration of extracutaneous organs. Mast cells typically infiltrate the bone marrow and consequently affect the peripheral blood and coagulation system. [15] Mast cells are derived from CD34+/ KIT+ pluripotent hematopoietic cells in the bone marrow. [16] The neoplastic clone of mast cells express abnormal cell surface markers CD25 and/or CD2. The marrow cellularity ranges from normocellular to markedly hypercellular changes. Erythropoiesis is usually normoblastic without any significant abnormalities. Eosinophilia is a common bone marrow histology finding (see Workup, Histologic Findings). Hypocellular bone marrow and myelofibrosis can be observed in late stages of systemic mastocytosis (systemic mast cell disease).

Ho et al evaluated the plasma level of pro–major basic protein (proMBP), a precursor of major basic protein that is contained in eosinophil cytoplasmic granules, in eosinophilic and chronic myeloproliferative disorders. [17] They found that the plasma proMBP level was significantly higher in patients with systemic mastocytosis with eosinophilia, idiopathic eosinophilia, and myeloproliferative disorders with eosinophilia than in healthy controls. In addition, the median proMBP level of patients with postpolycythemic myeloid metaplasia and those with postthrombocythemic myeloid metaplasia was significantly higher than in those with polycythemia vera and essential thrombocythemia. [17]

Ho et al also reported that the presence and size of splenomegaly was correlated with proMBP levels in certain conditions. In patients with idiopathic eosinophilia, the presence of splenomegaly was significantly associated with elevated proMBP. [17] In 76 patients with de novo myelofibrosis, the proMBP level was correlated with spleen size and the presence of hypercatabolic symptoms. All of these find ings led the investigators to conclude that "significantly elevated levels of proMBP in myelofibrosis patients implies that proMBP could be an important stromal cytokine in bone marrow fibrosis." [17]

Focal mast cell lesions in the bone marrow are found in approximately 90% of adult patients with systemic mastocytosis. A typical mast cell has a spindle-shaped nucleus and fine eosinophilic granules, which can be visualized at high magnification. These cells are likely to return positive findings upon Giemsa staining. Peripheral blood can show anemia, leukopenia, thrombocytopenia, and lymphopenia. The most common abnormality found in the peripheral blood is anemia. In some patients, eosinophilia, leukocytosis, basophilia, thrombocytosis, and monocytosis can be observed.

Spleen and lymphoid tissue involvement is a significant manifestation of systemic mastocytosis. Mast cell infiltrates in the spleen can cause nodular areas that could be confused with lymphomas. A biopsy specimen from the spleen can reveal findings similar to a myeloproliferative disorder or hairy cell leukemia. Histopathology studies of the spleen can reveal two types of involvement: (1) diffuse infiltration of the red pulp and sinuses and (2) focal infiltration of the white pulp. Lymph node biopsy can show mast cell infiltrates, particularly in the paracortex. Follicles and medullary involvement can be observed in some cases.

The immune system is affected as a consequence of the previously mentioned pathology. Mast cell products, such as interleukin 4 (IL-4) and interleukin 3 (IL-3), may induce immunoglobulin E (IgE) synthesis and augment T-cell differentiation toward an allergic phenotype. Mast cells also release histamine, which results in inhibition of interleukin 2 (IL-2).

GI involvement includes microscopic infiltration of the liver, pancreas, and intestines by mast cells. [18, 19] Abdominal pain has been attributed to peptic ulcer disease, involvement of the GI tract by mast cells, mediators released by mast cells, and motility disorders. GI involvement includes esophageal involvement (eg, esophagitis, stricture, varices), gastric involvement (eg, peptic ulcer disease, mucosal lesions), small intestine involvement (eg, dilatated small bowel, malabsorption), colon and rectal involvement (eg, multiple polyposis, diverticulitis), and liver involvement (eg, hepatomegaly and portal hypertension, ascites, sclerosing cholangitis, Budd-Chiari syndrome).

Osteoporosis is a common manifestations of systemic mastocytosis, particularly in adults, and can result in vertebral fractures. The mechanism of bone loss is not yet fully elucidated, but stimulation of osteoclast activity through RANK-RANKL signaling appears to be most important. Histamine and other cytokines also play significant roles. [20]

Systemic mastocytosis has many features common to myeloproliferative disorders and is now included under the umbrella of myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN). [12] Systemic mastocytosis is almost always associated with the KIT D816V mutation. This gain of function KIT receptor mutation is detected by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) techniques in 68% of bone marrow specimens in patients with systemic mastocytosis. [7] Additional molecular markers being tested include mutations of JAK2, MPL, and TET2. The association between JAK2 V617F and systemic mastocytosis is weak and was noted in just 4% of patients with systemic mastocytosis (all had associated non–mast cell hematological disease). [7] The incidence of TET2 mutations (reportedly as high as 29% in KIT+ systemic mastocytosis) seems to influence the phenotype without affecting the prognosis. [21]

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Epidemiology

Frequency

United States

Systemic mastocytosis is an extremely rare disorder; the specific incidence has not been reported.

International

Epidemiologic data on the incidence of systemic mastocytosis are lacking. Some studies in Great Britain showed two cases per year from a study population of 300,000.

Mortality/Morbidity

Systemic mastocytosis is a progressive neoplastic disorder that has no known curative therapy. Survival in patients with indolent systemic mastocytosis (ISM), with a median survival of 198 months, is not significantly different from the general population. However, median survival with aggressive systemic mastocytosis (ASM) is 41 months and that with SM-AHNMD (associated hematological non– mast cell disorder) is 24 months. Mast cell leukemia (MCL) has the poorest prognosis with a median survival of 2 months.

Early evolution into acute leukemia may occur in as many as 32% of patients with aggressive mastocytosis. [13] Leukemic transformation is rare with indolent systemic mastocytosis. [7]

 

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Sex- and Age-related Demographics

A slight male preponderance in the incidence of mastocytosis is noted. [7] Mastocytosis is more common in children than in adults, and it is usually transient and self-limited in children compared with the adult version. Onset in those younger than 2 years is noted in 55% of patients, and, in an additional 10% of patients, the onset is between the ages of 2 and 15 years.

Progression of pediatric cutaneous mastocytosis is uncommon, but not so in adults, where it frequently progresses to systemic disease. [3]

The median age at diagnosis of systemic mastocytosis in adults is 55 years. Patients with indolent systemic mastocytosis were younger and symptomatic for a longer duration of time as compared with patients with aggressive systemic mastocytosis or SM-AHNMD (with other hematological disorders). [7]

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