Background: The biological basis of pain in chronic pancreatitis is poorly understood. Mast cells have been implicated in the pathogenesis of pain in other conditions. We hypothesized that mast cells play a role in the pain of chronic pancreatitis. We examined the association of pain with mast cells in autopsy specimens of patients with painful chronic pancreatitis. We explored our hypothesis further using an experimental model of trinitrobenzene sulfonic acid (TNBS) -induced chronic pancreatitis in both wild type (WT) and mast cell deficient mice (MCDM). Methods: Archival tissues with histological diagnoses of chronic pancreatitis were identified and clinical records reviewed for presence or absence of reported pain in humans. Mast cells were counted. The presence of pain was assessed using von Frey Filaments (VFF) to measure abdominal withdrawal responses in both WT and MCDM mice with and without chronic pancreatitis. Results: Humans with painful chronic pancreatitis demonstrated a 3.5-fold increase in pancreatic mast cells as compared with those with painless chronic pancreatitis. WT mice with chronic pancreatitis were significantly more sensitive as assessed by VFF pain testing of the abdomen when compared with MCDM. Conclusion: Humans with painful chronic pancreatitis have an increased number of pancreatic mast cells as compared with those with painless chronic pancreatitis. MCDM are less sensitive to mechanical stimulation of the abdomen after induction of chronic pancreatitis as compared with WT. Mast cells may play an important role in the pathogenesis of pain in chronic pancreatitis.
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