Allergic eye disease has a variety of clinical manifestations including seasonal atopic conjunctivitis (SAC), perennial atopic conjunctivitis (PAC), atopic keratoconjunctivitis (AKC). and atopic blepharoconjunctivitis (ABC). We have investigated the number, distribution and protease expression of mast cells in normal and diseased conjunctiva with the use of immunohistochemistry in water-miscible resin sections. The median mast cell densities in normal subjects were 17mm -2 in the bulbar substantia propria and 9mm-2 in tarsal substantia propria. Mast cells were absent from the normal conjunctival epithelium at both sites. Mast cell densities were increased in the bulbar substantia propria in SAC, AKC and ABC. Tarsal substantia propria showed a significant increase in mast cells in ABC and AKC disease states. Mast cells express a range of proteases which varies according to their anatomic site. Mast cells in connective tissue are described to contain tryptase, chymase. cathepsin-G and carboxypeptidase-A, whereas mucosal mast cells contain only tryptase. In the diseased conjunctiva there was a marked reduction in proteases other than tryptase in the intraepithelial mast cells. There were also significant reductions in protease expression other than tryplase in the bulbar substantia propria in AKC and ABC. There appear to be specific alterations in the distribution of mast cells in the sub-categories of allergic eye disease. The distinction between mucosal and connective tissue mast cell pheno-types is not clear-cut and may depend on the functional state of the mast cells in relation to the microenvironment.