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Tryptase, a neutral protease, is a dominant protein component of the secretory granules of human mast cells. There are 2 forms of tryptase, designated as alpha and beta, which are encoded by 2 separate genes. Both are expressed as inactive proenzymes. Alpha-protryptase and beta-protryptase are spontaneously released from resting mast cells. The levels of the protrypases reflect the total number of mass cells within the body, but are not an indication of mast cell activation. Beta-protryptase is processed to a mature form, which is stored in granules and released as an active tetramer that is bound to heparin or chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans. In contrast, an amino acid change in alpha-protryptase prevents processing to a mature form. Upon mast cell activation, degranulation releases mature tryptase, which is almost exclusively in the form of beta-tryptase.
After anaphylaxis, mast cell granules release tryptase; measurable amounts are found in blood, generally within 30 to 60 minutes. The levels decline under first-order kinetics with half-life of approximately 2 hours. By comparison, histamine (another immunologic mediator released by activated mast cells) is cleared from blood within minutes. Increased serum levels may also occur after allergen challenge or in patients with systemic mastocytosis or mast cell activation syndrome.
Assessing mast cell activation, which may occur as a result of anaphylaxis or allergen challenge
Assessing patients with systemic mastocytosis or mast cell activation syndrome
Levels of total tryptase in serum > or =11.5 ng/mL may indicate mast cell activation occurring as a result of anaphylaxis or allergen challenge, or it may indicate increased number of mast cells as seen in patients with mastocytosis.
Tryptase may be undetectable or not elevated in some patients with acute mast cell activation if specimens are obtained >12 hours after an anaphylactic episode.
1. Schwartz LB, Metcalfe DD, Miller JS, et al: Tryptase levels as an indicator of mast-cell activation in systemic anaphylaxis and mastocytosis. N Engl J Med 1987;316:1622-1626
2. Schwartz LB, Yunginger JW, Miller J, et al: Time course of appearance and disappearance of human mast cell tryptase in the circulation after anaphylaxis. J Clin Invest 1989;83:1551-1555