We have examined cells dispersed enzymatically from three different sites in (he bovine lung (tracheal mucosa, bronchial mucosa and parenchyma) and the skin, in order to ascertain whether the bovine model could be used to study mast cell heterogeneity. Histochemically there were two sub-populations of mast cells present in both lung and skin (on the basis of toluidine blue staining and the sensitivity to formalin fixation), but their proportions were similar in all sites studied. Skin mast cells contained approximately twice the amount of histamine than their counterparts in the lung (P < 0.05). Functional heterogeneity was examined by in vitro release of histamine following secretagogue challenge. Calcium ionophore induced a substantial release of histamine; skin mast cells releasing significantly more histamine than any of the lung mast cells (at 10 μm ionophore, 37.1% and 20.7% net histamine release, respectively, P < 0.05), although the time-course of release from the two tissues was similar. The neuropeptides vasoactive intestinal peptide and somatostatin induced a modest but statistically significant release of histamine from both skin and lung mast cells, whilst substance P only induced histamine secretion from skin mast cells. A range of other potential immunological and non-immunological secretagogues was unsuccessful in eliciting histamine release from mast cells in any of the tissues. We conclude that there were no convincing histochemical differences between mast cells from the sites examined in the lung or skin. Additionally, there was no discernabie functional heterogeneity between mast cells within the lung, but functional differences were evident between mast cells of the bovine lung and skin. However, in the absence of a suitable immunological stimulus the bovine model cannot be regarded as a good model of mast cell heterogeneity.