Anti-IgE-dependent activation of rat and human mast cells resulted in the preferential generation of the cyclooxygenase products prostaglandin D2 (PGD2) and prostaglandin I2 (PGI2) in the rat and PGD2 in the human. The average net generation of PGD2, determined by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, was 13.1 ng/10(6) purified rat mast cells and 39.5 ng/10(6) dispersed, enriched human mast cells. After IgE-dependent activation, there was a linear relationship between the net quantities of PGD2 generated and of histamine secreted from dispersed human pulmonary cells when the number of mast cells was varied but the total number of cells was held constant, indicating that it is the number of mast cells participating in IgE-dependent activation, rather than total mast cell number, that determines PGD2 generation. A linear relationship was also shown between PGD2 generation, determined by radioimmunoassay, and the release of the granule marker beta-hexosaminidase from purified rat mast cells on the dose-response portion of the plot of their response to anti-IgE challenge. With higher concentrations of anti-IgE, PGD2 generation from rat mast cells plateaued, whereas net percent beta-hexosaminidase release increased further. In kinetic studies of rat mast cells activated with anti-IgE, the onset (1 to 2 min) and time of maximum generation (5 to 10 min) for PGD2 were delayed relative to the onset (15 to 30 sec) and completion (1 to 2 min) of beta-hexosaminidase release. Thus, the extracellular appearance of PGD2 during IgE-dependent mast cell activation represents a response additional to the secretion of granule-associated mediators.