ECL cells are argyrophilic endocrine cells of the stomach. Their distribution is species specific, however they are consistently located in the oxyntic mucosa and, in particular, in very close contact with the adenomeres of acidopeptic glands. ECL cells store histamine and are considered a key element in the mechanisms of gastric acid secretion as controlled by gastrin stimulus. Their peculiar anatomical disposition and secretory properties strongly suggest that ECL cells exert their function by a paracrine mechanism, i.e. by releasing histamine in the extracellular spaces surrounding acid-producing parietal cells. ECL cell activity is strongly stimulated by gastrin, which, once applied as a long-standing stimulus, also exerts a potent proliferating effect. Long-lasting hypergastrinaemia has been demonstrated to elicit ECL cell proliferation in laboratory animals, inducing ECL cell hyperplasia, dysplasia and ECL cell tumours, i.e. argyrophilic gastric carcinoids. However, in experimental rodents it is believed that hypergastrinaemia is not per sea stimulus capable of inducing ECL cell transformation, a predisposing genetic background being required for tumour development in endocrine organs. In man, long-standing hypergastrinaemia exerts the same proliferative pressure on ECL cells and is associated with hyperplasia with or without dysplastic changes and carcinoid development. Clinical evidence suggests that other factors, both genetic and environmental, are required to induce ECL cell transformation and carcinoid development. For this reason human gastric argyrophilic ECL carcinoids are subdivided into three main groups depending on their clinical background: (1) gastric carcinoids in patients with chronic atrophic gastritis; (2) gastric carcinoids in patients with Zollinger-Ellison and multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 syndrome (MEN-ZES); and (3) solitary, sporadic gastric carcinoids. The clinical assessment of carcinoid-bearing patients is strongly recommended for better diagnosis and management of patients.
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