The present study examined the regulatory expression of activin A, a potent growth and differentiation factor, in rat basophilic leukemia (RBL-2H3) mast cells. Treatment of RBL-2H3 cells sensitized with anti-dinitrophenyl IgE with multivalent dinitrophenyl led to a clear increase in RT-PCR products of inhibin/activin beta(A). The steady-state mRNA of inhibin/activin beta(A) was also induced by increasing cytosolic Ca(2+) concentration with ionomycin, which required de novo protein synthesis, and was regulated at the transcriptional level. Pretreatment of RBL-2H3 cells with antagonists or inhibitors for the calmodulin pathway blocked ionomycin-dependent inhibin/activin beta(A) transcription and mRNA induction, suggesting the involvement of calmodulin-dependent kinase (CaMK) and calcineurin. The ionomycin-dependent inhibin/activin beta(A) induction was also partially blocked by preincubation with c-Jun NH(2)-terminal kinase (JNK) and p38 kinase inhibitors, but not with MEK1 inhibitor. These results suggest that inhibin/activin beta(A) gene activation is achieved by the JNK and p38 kinase activation through the calmodulin pathway in mast cells.