Mast cells produce a number of cytokines including IL-6. In view of the large amounts of de novo synthesis induced by the activation of rat peritoneal mast cells and previous observations of expression of this cytokine by human lung mast cells, we have studied the regulation of IL-6 production. We examined the hypothesis that mast cell IL-6 production is not related to previous histamine release. Highly purified rat peritoneal mast cells were activated with anti-IgE, calcium ionophore A23187, or LPS. Histamine was used as a marker of preformed mediator release and IL-6 production was assessed by using the B9 hybridoma growth factor bioassay. Anti-IgE activation of rat peritoneal mast cells induced IL-6 production and histamine release. In contrast, LPS activation induced substantial, serum-dependent, IL-6 production without a significant level of histamine release. No preformed IL-6 was detected in the cells. Calcium ionophore induced histamine release from mast cells to a greater extent than did anti-IgE, but no A23187-induced IL-6 production was observed. A23187-treated cells retained high viability and produced a significant amount of TNF-alpha. To further examine the concordance of IL-6 production and histamine release we used mast cell stabilizing drugs. Dexamethasone and nedocromil significantly inhibited IL-6 production in response to anti-IgE. Our results demonstrate that there is not a direct relationship between mast cell degranulation and IL-6 production. Our observations are important for understanding the role of mast cells in inflammation and for developing strategies to modulate mast cell function in disease.