The symptoms and hemodynamic alterations that accompany episodes of systemic mast cell activation have been largely attributed to excessive prostaglandin (PG)D2 release. Quantification of the major urinary metabolite of PGD2 has been invaluable in elucidating a role for PGD2 in these clinical entities and in the biochemical evaluation of systemic mastocytosis. With the use of a modified mass spectrometric assay for the major urinary metabolite of PGD2, this metabolite was detected in plasma from 10 normal volunteers (3.5 +/- 1.4 pg/ml). Ingestion of niacin, which induces endogenous release of PGD2, increased plasma levels of this metabolite 6.3 to 33 times above the upper limit of normal by 2 hours. Thereafter, levels declined gradually but remained elevated for up to 6 to 8 hours. In contrast, circulating levels of 9 alpha, 11 beta-PGF2, the initial metabolite of PGD2, peaked by 30 minutes and returned to baseline by 2 hours. The clinical utility of measuring the major urinary metabolite in the circulation was demonstrated by detection of markedly increased levels in plasma and serum from patients with systemic mastocytosis and a patient with a severe type I allergic reaction. Thus in the biochemical evaluation of episodes of systemic mast cell activation and endeavors to further elucidate the role of PGD2 in human disease, there are kinetic advantages of measuring the major urinary metabolite of PGD2 in the circulation. One particular advantage is the evaluation of clinical events, which only in retrospect are suspected to be associated with excessive release of PGD2, yet plasma or serum was obtained proximate to the event.