A number of structurally diverse antigens preferentially stimulate the synthesis of IgE antibodies, but no unifying principle has been proposed that explains the nature of isotype selection. In the present study, we show that common allergens present in bee venom, house dust mite emanations and parasite proteins induce mast cell and basophil degranulation and stimulate interleukin-4 synthesis, and secretion in the absence of antigen-specific IgE. These data point to a linkage between the initial activation of cells of the innate immune system and subsequent adaptive immune responses. They suggest that IgE-independent mast cell and basophil degranulation is predictive of potential allergenicity and can be evaluated by means of a cellular assay. Our study indicates that non-immunological degranulation by prototypic allergens, such as bee venom phospholipase A2 or proteases associated with house dust mite emanations, is critically dependent on enzymatic activity. These findings have potentially important implications for vaccine design in allergic and parasitic disease.