The role of mast cells, potential mediators of mucosal immunity and inflammation, was studied morphologically in the rectal mucosa in two acute diarrheal diseases, cholera and shigellosis. Quantitation of mucosal mast cells showed that they were significantly higher in the deeper lamina propria where blood vessels and nerves were more abundant. There was no difference in mast cell counts or degranulation in the mucosa in both groups of patients and controls. Intraepithelial mast cells were decreased in the patients. The prevalence of lipid bodies was significantly higher in mast cells from patients with cholera and shigellosis (P < 0.01). These findings suggest that mast cell populations are more dense around blood vessels and nerves and that inflammatory mediators derived from arachidonic acid metabolites, as indicated by the lipid bodies, are the response of mast cells to the alterations in diarrhea, despite differences in the etiology of diarrhea.