12-O-Tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA), a tumor-promoting phorbol ester, induced the proliferation of connective tissue-type mast cells (CTMC) synergistically with IL-3 in a methylcellulose culture, as well as with IL-4. The culture of single CTMC and the serum-free culture of CTMC fractionated by Percoll density gradient centrifugation showed that this synergistic action of IL-3 and TPA required no effects of accessory cells or other humoral factors. Although the populations of CTMC acted on by TPA and IL-4 seemed to be close to each other, the velocity of colony growth induced by the simultaneous stimulation of the combination of TPA and IL-4 was faster than that induced by either TPA or IL-4 in the presence of IL-3. In addition, the addition of anti-IL-4 antibody did not neutralize the effect of TPA on the proliferation of CTMC. These results suggest that TPA and IL-4 act on the proliferation of CTMC synergistically with IL-3 via a different pathway. Beside TPA, other phorbol derivatives capable of activating protein kinase C (PKC) induced the proliferation of CTMC synergistically with IL-3, but phorbol derivatives which were unable to activate PKC did not. These results indicate that the activation of PKC is involved in the process of TPA action on the proliferation of CTMC. Furthermore, the facts that 1-oleoyl-2-acetylglycerol, which activated membrane PKC transiently, and staurosporine, which has been reported to inhibit PKC, did not induce the proliferation of CTMC in the presence of IL-3 and that the effect of TPA was exhibited by the sustained stimulation suggest that the action of TPA on the proliferation of CTMC requires at least two steps. The first one is the primary activation of membrane PKC and the second one is the disappearance of PKC from the cells, "down-regulation."