Recent evidence suggests that peptides induce the release of mediators from rat peritoneal mast cell by means of a receptor-independent mechanism, possibly involving an interaction with sialic acid residues at the cell surface followed by the activation of a guanine nucleotide binding protein (G protein). We have now examined the potential involvement of sialic acid residues and of G protein stimulation in the activation of both human and rat cutaneous mast cells by neuropeptide Y, its C-terminal fragments and the wasp venom peptide, mastoparan. Neuropeptide Y-(18-36) was the most effective histamine releaser of the fragments tested, the order of potency being neuropeptide Y-(18-36) > neuropeptide Y-(22-36) > neuropeptide Y-(1-36). This order of potency suggests that the effects of the peptides are not mediated through classical NPY receptors. The hydrolysis of sialic acid residues by neuraminidase and the inhibition of G proteins by benzalkonium chloride or pertussis toxin significantly inhibited the secretory response of cutaneous mast cells to neuropeptide Y-(18-36) and mastoparan. These results demonstrate that the peptidergic pathway described for the activation of peritoneal rat mast cells is also involved in the response of cutaneous human and rat mast cells to peptides.