Reorganization of the extracellular matrix is important in many biological and pathophysiological processes, including tissue remodelling, wound healing, or cancer metastasis. The ability of cultured fibroblasts to reorganize and contract three-dimensional type I collagen gels is regarded as an in vitro model for this process. In tissue fibrosis, complex interactions among fibroblasts, inflammatory cells and the extracellular matrix are taking place. Mast cells have often been discussed to play a role in several fibrotic conditions including scleroderma, scar formation, or wound healing. In this study, we examined the effects of mast cells on contraction of collagen lattices. The results demonstrate that co-culture of dermal fibroblasts with a human mast cell line (HMC-1) significantly enhanced contraction of the three-dimensional collagen lattices, whereas mast cells alone failed to contract the gel. Addition of culture supernatants of mast cells did not enhance the speed of gel contraction, indicating the importance of cell–cell contact. Morphological analysis showed that mast cells were incorporated into the lattices. Histological examination also demonstrated that within the lattices, mast cells were localized in close contact to, or attached to, fibroblasts. As fibroblasts and mast cells are known to attach via stem cell factor (SCF)/c-kit interaction when co-cultured in monolayers, we also examined the effect of antibodies against SCF and c-kit in this system. Addition of both antibodies inhibited gel contraction up to 70%. In contrast, antibodies against interleukin-4 (IL-4) and IL-4 receptor did not affect gel contraction. These results indicate that mast cells enhance fibroblast-mediated contraction of collagen lattices via direct cell–cell contact, mediated in part by SCF/c-kit interactions
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