Purpose: Psychological stress worsens many diseases, especially those with inflammatory components, such as atopic dermatitis (AD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), conditions that are significantly correlated in large epidemiologic studies. However, how stress contributes to these conditions is still poorly understood. This narrative review of the relevant literature advances the premise that stress affects inflammatory processes in AD and ASD via stimulation of mast cells (MCs).
Methods: MEDLINE was searched between 1980 and 2019 using the terms allergies, atopic dermatitis, autism spectrum disorder, brain, corticotropin-releasing hormone, inflammation, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, mast cells, neuropeptides, stress, neurotensin, and substance P.
Findings: Exposure to psychological stress is associated with onset and/or exacerbation of AD and ASD. This association could be attributable to activation of MCs, which are ubiquitous in the body, including the brain, and could contribute to inflammation.
Implications: Understanding and addressing the connection between stress and MCs is important in clarifying the pathogenesis and developing effective treatments for diseases that worsen with stress and involve inflammation, such as AD and ASD.
Keywords: Atopic dermatitis; Autism spectrum disorder; Corticotropin-releasing hormone; Inflammation; Mast cells; Stress.