The cell line HMC-1, derived from a patient with mast cell leukaemia, is the only established cell line exhibiting a phenotype similar to that of human mast cells. This paper reports on a detailed characterization of the expression of a panel of markers for various types of immature and mature haematopoietic cells in the HMC-1. We also studied the potential of HMC-1 to differentiate upon treatment with conditioned media from the human T-cell line Mo, retinoic acid or DMSO. HMC-1 was found to express several mast cell-related markers. A high expression of Kit, the receptor for stem-cell factor, was detected. The majority of the cells were stained with a MoAb against the mast cell-specific serine protease tryptase. Of particular interest was the finding that beta-tryptase mRNA, but not alpha-tryptase mRNA, was expressed in HMC-1. Using enzyme-histochemistry we were able to show that the beta-tryptase was enzymatically active, indicating that tryptase can form active homotetramers. Both heparin and chondroitin sulfate were found to be present in approximately equal amounts. HMC-1 lacked surface expression of the high-affinity IgE receptor, which was confirmed by the absence of mRNA of the alpha- and beta-chains of the IgE-receptor complex. However, a strong expression of the gamma-chain of the IgE-receptor complex was detected. A positive staining of the monocyte/macrophage marker CD68 was obtained, as well as a strong hybridization signal for the eosinophilic/basophilic-related differentiation marker the Charcot-Leyden crystal. Treatment of HMC-1 with conditioned media from the human T-cell line Mo, retinoic acid or DMSO induced only moderate changes in the surface or intracellular expression of the studied markers. The agents tested neither induced any of the monocyte/granulocyte markers examined, nor expression of the Fc epsilon RI alpha-chain.