Skin mast cells and basophilic leukocytes are known as key elements of acute and subacute IgE-mediated immune responses of the skin. The present paper investigated pharmacological aspects of signal transduction pathways of both cell types using activators and inhibitors of protein kinase C (PKC). The nonselective inhibitor K252a suppressed Fc epsilon RI-mediated histamine release from basophils and skin mast cells dose-dependently with IC50 values of 0.01 and 0.28 mumol/l. However, preincubation of both cell populations with kinase inhibitors showing in vitro selectivity for PKC (Ro 31-7549, calphostin C, GF 109203X) revealed a distinct modulation of cell response: IgE-mediated mediator release was inhibited only in skin mast cells, whereas in experiments with basophils a concentration-dependent potentiation of exocytosis was observed. Further evidence for heterogenous biochemical signals following activation of both cell types derived from studies with the phorbol ester TPA. With respect to acute and late-phase IgE-mediated skin reactions, we suggest that distinct signal transduction mechanisms at the level of PKC (isozymes) in basophils and skin mast cells might reflect their functional heterogeneity.