The c-kit gene is allelic with the dominant spotting (W) locus on mouse chromosome 5 and encodes a receptor tyrosine kinase. The ligand for c-kit receptor is stem cell factor (SCF), which is the principal growth factor for mast cells. The loss-of-function mutations of c-kit receptor affect the development of mast cells, thereby resulting in a depletion of mast cells. The abundant expression of c-kit receptor is indispensable for the survival of mast cells. In addition, the gain-of-function mutations of c-kit receptor were found in several tumor mast cell lines. When these gain-of-function mutations were introduced to cells of murine interleukin (IL)-3-dependent cell lines, the expression of c-kit receptor with constitutive tyrosine kinase activity not only abrogated the IL-3 requirement of the cells, but also caused them to become tumorigenic in nude athymic mice. The gain-of-function mutations of c-kit receptor appear to result in the malignant transformation of mast cells. Taken together, the signals from the c-kit receptor are essential for the development, survival, and malignant transformation of mast cells.