Basophil vs. Mast Cell

What's the Difference?

Basophils and mast cells are both types of white blood cells that play important roles in the immune system. Basophils are found in the bloodstream, while mast cells are primarily located in tissues throughout the body. Both cells are involved in allergic reactions and release histamine, a chemical that triggers inflammation and allergic symptoms. However, mast cells are known to have a more prominent role in allergic responses, as they are found in higher concentrations in tissues where allergic reactions occur. Additionally, mast cells have a longer lifespan compared to basophils. Despite these differences, both cells are crucial in the immune response and contribute to the body's defense against pathogens and foreign substances.


AttributeBasophilMast Cell
Cell TypeGranulocyteGranulocyte
OriginBone marrowBone marrow
FunctionAllergic reactions, immune responseAllergic reactions, immune response
Size12-15 μm12-15 μm
NucleusBilobedIrregular shape
GranulesLarge and basophilicLarge and basophilic
StainingStains with basic dyesStains with basic dyes
ReceptorsIgE receptors (FcεRI)IgE receptors (FcεRI)
Mediator ReleaseRelease histamine, heparin, cytokinesRelease histamine, heparin, cytokines
Associated ConditionsAllergies, asthma, parasitic infectionsAllergies, asthma, parasitic infections

Further Detail


Basophils and mast cells are both types of white blood cells that play crucial roles in the immune system. While they share some similarities, they also have distinct characteristics and functions. In this article, we will explore the attributes of basophils and mast cells, highlighting their differences and similarities.

Origin and Development

Basophils and mast cells originate from different cell lines and undergo distinct maturation processes. Basophils are derived from hematopoietic stem cells in the bone marrow and mature in the bone marrow before being released into the bloodstream. Mast cells, on the other hand, originate from hematopoietic stem cells but undergo maturation in various tissues, such as the skin, connective tissues, and mucosal surfaces.

Basophils and mast cells also differ in terms of their surface markers. Basophils express CD123, CD203c, and FcεRI, which are important for their identification and function. Mast cells, on the other hand, express CD117 (c-Kit), CD13, and FcεRI, among other markers. These surface markers help distinguish between the two cell types.

Function and Activation

Basophils and mast cells have overlapping functions in the immune response, particularly in allergic reactions and defense against parasites. Both cell types release histamine, a potent inflammatory mediator, upon activation. Histamine promotes vasodilation, increases vascular permeability, and recruits other immune cells to the site of inflammation.

Basophils are primarily involved in the late-phase allergic response, where they release cytokines such as interleukin-4 (IL-4) and interleukin-13 (IL-13). These cytokines contribute to the recruitment and activation of other immune cells, such as eosinophils and T-helper 2 (Th2) cells. Basophils also play a role in the regulation of immune responses and can present antigens to T cells.

Mast cells, on the other hand, are known for their role in the immediate allergic response. When triggered by an allergen, mast cells release preformed mediators, including histamine, heparin, and various proteases. These mediators cause the characteristic symptoms of allergies, such as itching, redness, and swelling. Mast cells also produce and release other inflammatory molecules, such as leukotrienes and prostaglandins, amplifying the immune response.

Tissue Distribution

Basophils and mast cells have different tissue distributions, reflecting their distinct maturation processes. Basophils are primarily found in the bloodstream, where they circulate in low numbers. They can migrate to tissues during inflammatory responses, but their presence in non-lymphoid tissues is limited.

Mast cells, on the other hand, are widely distributed throughout the body, particularly in connective tissues, mucosal surfaces, and near blood vessels. They are most abundant in tissues exposed to the external environment, such as the skin, respiratory tract, and gastrointestinal tract. This distribution allows mast cells to act as sentinels, detecting and responding to potential threats in these vulnerable areas.

Granule Composition

Basophils and mast cells contain granules filled with various substances that contribute to their functions. Basophil granules contain histamine, heparin, proteoglycans, and enzymes such as tryptase and chymase. These granules are released upon activation, contributing to the inflammatory response.

Mast cells, on the other hand, have more diverse granule content. They contain histamine, heparin, proteoglycans, enzymes (tryptase, chymase, carboxypeptidase A), cytokines (such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha), chemokines, and growth factors. The specific composition of mast cell granules can vary depending on the tissue and the type of mast cell.

Receptors and Sensitivity

Basophils and mast cells express different receptors and exhibit varying sensitivities to different stimuli. Basophils are highly sensitive to allergens and can be activated through cross-linking of their FcεRI receptors by allergen-specific IgE antibodies. This activation triggers the release of histamine and other mediators.

Mast cells, on the other hand, can be activated through various receptors, including FcεRI, Toll-like receptors (TLRs), and cytokine receptors. They can also be activated by physical stimuli, such as mechanical stress or temperature changes. Mast cells exhibit a higher threshold for activation compared to basophils, requiring stronger stimuli to trigger degranulation.


Basophils and mast cells are important components of the immune system, contributing to allergic reactions, defense against parasites, and regulation of immune responses. While they share some similarities in function and granule content, they also have distinct attributes, including their tissue distribution, maturation processes, and sensitivities to different stimuli. Understanding the unique characteristics of basophils and mast cells is crucial for unraveling their roles in health and disease, and for developing targeted therapies to modulate their functions.

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