In response to IgE and specific multivalent antigen, mast cell lines (both growth factor-dependent and -independent) induce the transcription and/or secretion of a number of cytokines having a wide spectrum of activities. We have identified IL-1, IL-3, IL-5, IL-6, IFN-gamma, GM-CSF, JE, MIP1 alpha, MIP1 beta, and TCA3 RNA in at least two of four mast cell clones. The production of these products (except JE) is activation-associated and can be induced by IgE plus antigen. In selected instances cytokine expression can also be induced by activation with Con A or phorbol ester plus ionophore, albeit to levels less than those observed with IgE plus antigen. In addition, long-term mast cell clones and primary cultures of bone marrow-derived mast cells specifically release IL-1, IL-4, and/or IL-6 bioactivity after activation. These findings suggest that in addition to their inflammatory effector function mast cells may serve as a source of growth and regulatory factors. The relationship of mast cells to cells of the T lymphocyte lineage is discussed.