We examined the capacity of purified rat peritoneal connective tissue-type mast cells (PMC) to express mRNA for several cytokines. Stimulation of PMC with anti-IgE for 4 hr induced the expression of mRNA encoding interleukin-5 (IL-5), IL-6, tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), macrophage inflammatory protein-2 (MIP-2) and interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma). Unstimulated PMC expressed detectable mRNA for TNF-alpha but not for the other four cytokines. Incubation of PMC with cyclosporin A (CsA) or dexamethasone (DEX), each at 10(-6) M for 24 hr, significantly inhibited the induced expression of mRNA for each of the five cytokines, and also inhibited release of biologically active TNF-alpha. Throughout these experiments mRNA levels of the housekeeping gene G3PDH were not altered by stimulation with anti-IgE or incubation with CsA or DEX. We conclude that immunological activation of rat PMC induces gene expression of several cytokines and that expression of these genes can be inhibited by immunosuppressive drugs.