Both connective tissue mast cells and mast cells grown in vitro are derived from multipotential hematopoietic stem cells, but these two mast cell populations exhibit many differences in morphology, biochemistry, and function. We investigated whether the phenotype of cultured mast cells or their progeny was altered when the cells were transferred into different locations in vivo. Cultured mast cells were immature by ultrastructure, and stained with alcian blue but with neither safranin or berberine sulfate, a fluorescent dye that binds to the heparin of connective tissue mast cell granules. By contrast, mast cells recovered from the peritoneal cavity of congenitally mast cell-deficient (WB X C57BL/6)F1-W/Wv (WBB6F1-W/Wv) mice 10 wk after intraperitoneal injection of cultured WBB6F1-+/+ or C57BL/6-bgJ/bgJ mast cells stained with both safranin and berberine sulfate. Staining with berberine sulfate was prevented by treatment of the cells with heparinase but not chondroitinase ABC, suggesting that the adoptively transferred mast cell population had acquired the ability to synthesize and store heparin. Furthermore, the recovered mast cells were indistinguishable by ultrastructure from the normal mature peritoneal mast cells of WBB6F1-+/+ mice, and contained substantially more histamine than mast cells studied directly from culture. Intravenous injection of cultured mast cells resulted in the development of safranin-and berberine sulfate-positive mast cells in the peritoneal cavity, spleen, skin, and glandular stomach muscularis propria. Mast cells also developed on the glandular stomach mucosa, but these cells stained with alcian blue rather than safranin, and did not stain with berberine sulfate. This result suggests that cultured mast cells can give rise to mast cells of either the connective tissue type or mucosal phenotype, depending on anatomical location. Furthermore, transplantation of cultured mast cells into WBB6F1-W/Wv mice had no measurable effect on the anemia of the recipient mice, suggesting a possible strategy for repairing the mast cell deficiency of WBB6F1-W/Wv mice without affecting other bone marrow-derived populations such as erythrocytes. Intravenous injection of representative connective tissue type mast cells (30-50% pure peritoneal mast cells derived from WBB6F1-+/+ mice) gave results similar to those obtained with cultured mast cells: mast cells developing in the peritoneal cavity, skin, spleen, and glandular stomach muscularis propria of WBB6F1-W/Wv recipients stained with safranin and berberine sulfate, whereas mast cells developing in the mucosa of the glandular stomach stained only with alcian blue.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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