Gut mucosal mast cells (MMC), which are nearly absent in normal mice are abundant during nematode infection. In normal mice, study of MMC precursors (MMC-P: cells giving rise to MMC colonies in the presence of IL-3) show that: (a) their frequency, judged by limiting dilution is very high in bone marrow (BM) and gut, and very low in most lymphoid organs and thoracic duct lymph (TDL); (b) gut MMC-P are Thy-1- Lyt-1-2- and are not rapidly replicating; (c) they are the progeny of less differentiated BM MMC-P which are attracted from the blood to the gut mucosa by local factor(s), other than antigen and T cell factors (since normal amounts of gut MMC-P are found in germ-free, nude, and newborn mice). In mice bearing the Wehi 3 tumor (which releases enough IL-3 to produce detectable blood levels) spleen and mesenteric lymph nodes (LN) show increased MMC-P frequency, the greatest increase being in the gut and BM, where numerous differentiated MMC are found. In Nippostrongylus brasiliensis (Nb)-infested mice (known to develop a large, T cell-dependent, gut MMC infiltration), gut MMC-P proliferation is induced by IL-3 released from gut mucosal Thy-1+ Lyt-2- cells, whose in vitro IL-3 release capability is much higher than that of similar cells from normal mice. Both Nb-stimulated T blasts and proliferating MMC-P undergo cyclic traffic, migrating into the TDL and then seeding the whole length of the gut (a process which allows a widespread immune defense after a local antigenic stimulus). Experiments using 2-d interruption of this traffic and fetal gut grafts, suggest that the continuous homing of T blasts back to the gut which leads to permanent Nb-stimulated IL-3 release, is essential for the full maturation of MMC. Transfer experiments in the rat show that TDL circulating MMC-P rapidly mature into MMC when they home back to the Nb-infested gut. It is proposed that gut MMC arise after several stages of progressive differentiation of MMC-P, influenced both by IL-3 and unidentified gut factor(s).

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