Besides its effects on tumour cells, tumour necrosis factor (TNF) also acts on a variety of other cells, thus enhancing inflammatory and immune processes. In view of the prominent role of the mast cell in such processes, the aim of the present study was to assess the effects of recombinant TNF-alpha on human mast cells. Mast cells from the infant foreskin obtained during circumcision were dispersed by an enzymatic technique using collagenase and hyaluronidase. Cells thus obtained were pooled, washed and separated by Percoll gradient centrifugation. Mast cells, with a purity of 70-90% were incubated for 60 min with 10(-11) to 10(-7) M rTNF-alpha. Histamine and tryptase levels were assessed in the cell supernatant by spectrofluorometry and radioimmunoassay (RIA) respectively. A concentration dependent release of histamine was observed, which reached a maximum of 11.5 +/- 2.2 nmol/10(6) cells at 10(-8) M rTNF. Release of tryptase was also concentration dependent and reached a maximum of 293 +/- 105 mU/10(6) cells (10(-8) rTNF). rTNF-alpha thus appears to be a direct stimulus for mast cells to degranulate and to release both histamine and tryptase.