Recombinant monocyte chemotactic-activating factor (MCAF) has been shown to induce histamine release from human basophils with a dose response between 10(-9) and 10(-6) M. The peak of activity was reached at 10(-7) M. Histamine release by MCAF was rapid with an initial rate comparable with histamine release by an optimal dose of anti-IgE. MCAF led to peak histamine release within 1 min. 80% of the subjects tested were responsive to MCAF or anti-IgE, while all were responsive to FMLP. The percentage histamine release by MCAF was, however, less than that seen with anti-IgE or FMLP, but this was attributable to a lesser percent release in nonatopic subjects; atopic subjects responded similarly to all three agonists. MCAF was also shown to activate highly purified human basophils more readily than mixed leukocytes, and its activity was inhibited by a polyclonal rabbit antibody. At a suboptimal concentration (2.5 x 10(-9) M), MCAF was unable to prime the basophil to histamine release by other secretagogues. However, interleukin 3 (IL-3) and IL-5 could each prime basophils for MCAF-induced secretion. Therefore, our results suggest that MCAF may be a major contributor to the histamine-releasing activity seen in peripheral blood mononuclear cell supernatants that has been designated histamine releasing factor(s).