Mast cells have been traditionally associated with an acute allergic response. However, their role in regulating chronic inflammatory processes must also be considered in view of evidence that mast cells synthesize and release a number of cytokines. In this study, we have examined the effect of cholera toxin (CT) on peritoneal mast cell IL-6 and TNF-alpha production. Highly purified, freshly isolated, rat peritoneal mast cells from Brown Norway rats were cultured in the presence of CT or its B subunit (CTB) alone or in combination with anti-IgE or bacterial LPS. Histamine release was measured after 10 min; IL-16 and TNF-alpha production was assessed in supernatants after 18 h. We found that CT or CTB alone did not affect histamine release; however, mast cell IL-6 production was significantly enhanced by CT but not by CTB. In contrast, constitutive production of TNF-alpha was inhibited by CT. The effects of CT were similar to our previous observations of the actions of prostaglandin E2 on mast cells. We also examined the effects of CT in combination with other mast cell activating agents. CT had no significant effect on anti-IgE-induced histamine release. An additive effect on IL-6 production was observed in the context of LPS. Forskolin, an agent known to increase intracellular cAMP levels, also induced a significant increase in IL-6 production, whereas TNF-alpha production was decreased. These data have important implications for our understanding of the regulation of mast cell cytokine production and the effects of CT on local cytokine production.