Tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha)/cachectin is a multifunctional cytokine that has effects in inflammation, sepsis, lipid and protein metabolism, haematopoiesis, angiogenesis and host resistance to parasites and malignancy. TNF-alpha was first described in activated macrophages, but certain mouse or rat mast cell populations (reviewed in refs 4,5) and some in vitro-derived human cells with cytochemical features of mast cells-basophils may also contain products similar to TNF-alpha. Here we present evidence that resident mouse peritoneal mast cells constitutively contain large amounts of TNF-alpha bioactivity, whereas cultured, immature mast cells vary in their TNF-alpha content. IgE-dependent activation of cultured or peritoneal mast cells induces extracellular release of TNF-alpha and augments levels of TNF-alpha messenger RNA and bioactivity. These findings identify mouse mast cells as an important source of both preformed and immunologically inducible TNF-alpha, and suggest that release of TNF-alpha by mast cells may contribute to host defence, the pathophysiology of allergic diseases and other processes dependent on TNF-alpha.