Mast cells are known to be present in human liver but their distribution and density in normal livers and in chronic liver diseases have not previously been examined. In this study, we quantified mast cell numbers and examined their distribution in percutaneous biopsy specimens from normal livers (n = 8) and in two chronic progressive liver diseases: primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) (n = 40) and alcoholic liver disease (n = 33). We compared differences in mast cell density between these two forms of chronic liver disease because it had been suggested that mast cells may play a role in the development of liver fibrosis, particularly in patients with chronic cholestatic liver disease who frequently have increased plasma histamine levels. Mast cells were identified by immunohistochemistry using a specific monoclonal antibody (AA1) raised against mast cell tryptase after an initial study showed this to be more sensitive for the detection of mast cells than the conventional histochemical stain, toluidine blue. Our results showed that small numbers of mast cells (3.9 ± 3.3/mm2) are present within the portal tracts and sinusoids of normal livers. In progressive chronic liver disease, increased numbers of mast cells were present, which correlated with the increasing amounts of liver fibrosis present. We found significantly more mast cells in the PBC group compared with the alcoholic group for a given amount of fibrosis. Our findings suggest that mast cells and their mediators may play a role in liver fibrogenesis. (HEPATOLOGY 1995; 22:1175–1181.).