Duchenne muscular dystrophy is the most common inherited lethal X-linked disorder of mankind and is caused by dystrophin deficiency. The steps involved in the dystrophin-deficiency-induced cascade which lead to myofiber necrosis, progressive muscle wasting in humans and dogs and prominent muscle hypertrophy in mice and cats are obscure. Dystrophin is an intracellular component of the membrane cytoskeleton and its absence would be expected to cause necrosis of isolated myofibers (cell autonomous defect). However, all dystrophin-deficient muscles characteristically show simultaneous degeneration of large groups of muscle fibers (grouped necrosis). This implies that cell death may be mediated by extracellular, non-cell autonomous factors which occur as a secondary consequence of dystrophin deficiency. We have proposed a model where tissue pathology may be mediated by infiltrating mast cells (Gorospe et al., J Neurol Sci 1994). Here we show that intramuscular injections of purified mast cell granules induce widespread myofiber necrosis in dystrophin-deficient mdx mice, but not in normal mice. These data support the hypothesis that dystrophin acts as a plasma membrane stabilizer and that its deficiency renders myofibers more susceptible to damage from mast cell proteases. Moreover, our results support the hypothesis that mast cell degranulation may be a trigger for myofiber death in dystrophin-deficient muscle.