Indian Journal of Dermatology
  Publication of IADVL, WB
  Official organ of AADV
Indexed with Science Citation Index (E) , Web of Science and PubMed
Users online: 5168  
Home About  Editorial Board  Current Issue Archives Online Early Coming Soon Guidelines Subscriptions  e-Alerts    Login  
    Small font sizeDefault font sizeIncrease font size Print this page Email this page

Table of Contents 
Year : 2016  |  Volume : 61  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 347
Successful treatment of provisional cutaneous mastocytosis with interferon alpha

Department of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology, Father Muller Medical College, Mangalore, Karnataka, India

Date of Web Publication13-May-2016

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Andrea Rosario
Room No. 65, Skin OPD, Father Muller Medical College, Mangalore - 575 002, Karnataka
Login to access the Email id

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0019-5154.182473

Rights and Permissions


Mastocytosis is a disorder characterized by the clonal proliferation of mast cells and their accumulation in skin, bone marrow, liver, and spleen. Cutaneous mastocytosis presents in children in over 90% of the cases and any cutaneous manifestation in an adult is the earliest sign of the systemic disease. A 45-year-old patient presented with itchy dark lesions over the body since childhood and Darier's sign was positive. Skin biopsy showed features of mastocytosis and immunohistochemistry was positive for CD34. Since the patient was refractory to treatment with antihistamines and psoralen-ultraviolet A therapy, injections of interferon alpha were given – 3 million IU twice weekly subcutaneously as they have been proven to improve constitutional symptoms. Very few reports of successful treatment of cutaneous mastocytosis using interferon alpha have been published.

Keywords: Interferon alpha, mast cell accumulation, mastocytosis, myeloproliferative disorder

How to cite this article:
Rosario A, Bhat RM. Successful treatment of provisional cutaneous mastocytosis with interferon alpha. Indian J Dermatol 2016;61:347

How to cite this URL:
Rosario A, Bhat RM. Successful treatment of provisional cutaneous mastocytosis with interferon alpha. Indian J Dermatol [serial online] 2016 [cited 2022 Jan 28];61:347. Available from:

What was known?
Mastocytosis is a clonal proliferation of mast cells and their accumulation in skin, bone marrow, liver, and spleen. Interferon.alpha has been proven to ameliorate constitutional symptoms and has a proven hematological and cytogenic effect in coexistent hematopoietic disorders.

   Introduction Top

Mastocytosis is a disorder characterized by abnormal clonal proliferation and accumulation of mast cells in multiple organs commonly the skin.[1] The cutaneous forms include: Generalized urticaria pigmentosa, solitary mastocytoma and telangiectasia macularis eruptive perstans. Diagnostic hallmark includes skin biopsy, tryptase antibodies for staining and serum tryptase levels. Interferon-alpha has been considered as a first line cytoreductive agent in systemic mastocytosis [2] and has proven effective in ameliorating constitutional symptoms and marrow infiltration by mast cells.

   Case Report Top

A 45-year-male patient presented with a history of reddish raised lesions over the body since childhood. Lesions developed over the course of 10–15 months and were associated with itching. Since the last 5 years, he noticed multiple pea sized reddish raised lesions over the trunk, arms, legs that have flattened over time with pigmentation. The patient has been treated with antihistamines with no improvement. He gives no history of pain abdomen, flushing or breathlessness. Examination revealed multiple hyperpigmented macules and papules distributed all over the body. Darier sign was positive, and there was no organomegaly or generalized lymphadenopathy [Figure 1]. Skin biopsy revealed features of mastocytosis. Immunohistochemistry was positive for CD34 and CD117 [Figure 2] and [Figure 3]. Bone marrow biopsy was suggested but the patient was unwilling for the same, and a provisional diagnosis of cutaneous mastocytosis was considered. Since he was refractory to the first line of treatment, Interferon injections were started. He received them twice weekly (3 million IU, subcutaneously) after baseline tests were normal. Till date, patient has received 84 injections of interferon alpha and reports improvement in itching and a marked decrease in pigmentation [Figure 4] and [Figure 5]. A repeat biopsy was done and immunohistochemistry was negative for CD34 [Figure 6].
Figure 1: Positive Darier sign demonstrated on back of patient following stroking with a blunt object

Click here to view
Figure 2: Immunohistochemistry - CD34, demonstrating negativity - done after recieving seventy injections of interferon alpha

Click here to view
Figure 3: Photomicrograph depicting positivitiy of marker CD117 (high power)

Click here to view
Figure 4: Image taken at baseline prior to initiation of treatment with injection interferon alpha

Click here to view
Figure 5: Image taken following completion of seventy injections of interferon alpha - note marked decrease in pigmentation and number of lesions

Click here to view
Figure 6: Immunohistochemistry - CD34, demonstrating positivity - done prior to initiating treatment

Click here to view

   Discussion Top

According to the classification by WHO, there are seven variants of mastocytosis that includes both cutaneous and hematological variants. Mast cells are highlighted by aniline dyes such as Giemsa, toluidine blue and chloracetate esterase as they reveal densely packed metachromatic granules [Figure 7].[3] Interferon alpha is the interferon of choice since 1990's,[4] and considered more effective than imatinib. It actively decreases bone marrow mast cell infiltration, ameliorates ascites, hepatosplenomegaly, and osteoporosis, improves pruritus, flushing, diarrhoea, decreases mast cell mediator release, its infiltration in different organ systems and can effect cytokine production and mast cell growth utilizing bone marrow cells.[5] A multicenter Phase II trial conducted by Casassus et al .[6] wherein 27 patients of systemic mastocytosis were treated with 5 million IU of interferon alpha observed that 6 months of aggressive treatment relieved vascular congestion in twenty of the patients possibly due to inhibition of mast cell degranulation. Yet another case reported by Butterfield et al .[7] successfully treated a patient of systemic mastocytosis with interferon alpha-2b at 10 million IU 3 times/week and demonstrated a significant reduction of bone marrow mast cell infiltration along with normalization of histamine metabolites and tryptase levels. Butterfield et al .[8] reported yet another case of a 44-year-old patient with urticaria pigmentosa who was successfully treated with interferon alpha at 6 million IU, which was increased to 10 million IU 3 times/week along with prednisolone 10 mg which was tapered and stopped for 5 years. However, Worobec et al .[9] reported no significant improvement when three patients with systemic mastocytosis were treated with interferon alpha-2b at 5 million IU per week with coexistent visceral involvement and underlying hematological disorder. Interferons have varied biological activities including inhibition of viral proliferation and induction of cytotoxic T-cells, which is considered one of the mechanisms of anti-tumor effect. In a study published by Masuda,[10] interferon injections were capable of inducing hematological and cytological response in 80–90% of the patients of chronic myeloid leukemia and hairy cell leukemia recruited within the stipulated period of the study.
Figure 7: Histopathological image in low power showing metachromatic granules of mast cells demonstrated by special stain

Click here to view

Common adverse effects noted following administration of interferon injections were flu-like syndrome, bone pains and depression. Casassus et al . reported depression as the most common side effect observed in 35% of their patients. Similarly, Butterfield reported mild depression and hypothyroidism which could be treated with supplemental levothyroxine. Our patient developed flu-like syndrome and arthralgia in the 1st month of treatment which was treated with analgesics. Cutaneous mastocytosis usually presents in childhood; our patient presented with cutaneous features of mastocytosis with no evidence of systemic involvement prompting us to consider a provisional diagnosis of cutaneous mastocytosis. He received antihistamines, mast cell stabilizers and was refractory to treatment and hence the option of interferon alpha injections was given as patient had repeated bouts of urticaria that hampered his work routine. Thus it helped to ameliorate constitutional symptoms and was associated with the absence of mast cells on repeat immunohistochemistry. The patient is currently on follow-up and has reported no new symptoms.

   Conclusion Top

Despite advances in the diagnosis and molecular pathology of mastocytosis, its treatment remains elusive. Current treatment is aimed at ameliorating symptoms, avoidance of triggers and managing life-threatening anaphylaxis. In the absence of effective therapy and in view of the similarity between myeloproliferative disorders and mastocytosis, interferon alpha shows promise due to its hematological and cytogenic response in patients with mastocytosis and a possible coexistent hematopoietic disorder.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

   References Top

Fernandes IC, Teixeira MA, Freitas I, Selores M, Alves R, Lima M. Adult mastocytosis: Review of Hospital Santo António's experience and evaluation of the World Health Organization criteria for the diagnosis of systemic disease. An Bras Dermatol 2014;89:59-66.  Back to cited text no. 1
Pardanani A. Systemic mastocytosis in adults: 2015 update on diagnosis, risk stratification, and management. Am J Hematol 2015;90:250-62.  Back to cited text no. 2
Bjerrum OW. Interferon-α treatment in systemic mastocytosis. Curr Drug Targets 2011;12:433-6.  Back to cited text no. 3
Cardet JC, Akin C, Lee MJ. Mastocytosis: Update on pharmacotherapy and future directions. Expert Opin Pharmacother 2013;14:2033-45.  Back to cited text no. 4
Hartmann K, Bruns SB, Henz BM. Mastocytosis: Review of clinical and experimental aspects. J Investig Dermatol Symp Proc 2001;6:143-7.  Back to cited text no. 5
Casassus P, Caillat-Vigneron N, Martin A, Simon J, Gallais V, Beaudry P, et al. Treatment of adult systemic mastocytosis with interferon-alpha: Results of a multicentre phase II trial on 20 patients. Br J Haematol 2002;119:1090-7.  Back to cited text no. 6
Butterfield JH, Tefferi A, Kozuh GF. Successful treatment of systemic mastocytosis with high-dose interferon-alfa: Long-term follow-up of a case. Leuk Res 2005;29:131-4.  Back to cited text no. 7
Butterfield JH, Kozuh GF. Successful treatment of systemic mastocytosis with high dose interferon-alfa. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2004;113:85.  Back to cited text no. 8
Worobec AS, Kirshenbaum AS, Schwartz LB, Metcalfe DD. Treatment of three patients with systemic mastocytosis with interferon alpha-2b. Leuk Lymphoma 1996;22:501-8.  Back to cited text no. 9
Masuda M. Interferon therapy in leukemia. J Jpn Med Assoc 2004;47:13-7.  Back to cited text no. 10

What is new?
Interferon.alpha has been proven effective in ameliorating constitutional symptoms in our patient who had repeated bouts of urticaria, that impeded daily routine and was substantiated by a negative immunohistochemistry for CD34. (mast cells) following completion of 84 injections of interferon alpha. Our patient is still on regular follow.up and has reported no new symptoms.


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5], [Figure 6], [Figure 7]


Print this article  Email this article
    Similar in PUBMED
   Search Pubmed for
   Search in Google Scholar for
 Related articles
    Article in PDF (1,931 KB)
    Citation Manager
    Access Statistics
    Reader Comments
    Email Alert *
    Add to My List *
* Registration required (free)  

   Case Report
    Article Figures

 Article Access Statistics
    PDF Downloaded45    
    Comments [Add]    

Recommend this journal