A synthetic basic decapeptide from the C4 domain of human immunoglobulin E, corticotropin-(1-24)-peptide, polyarginine and polylysine stimulated up to 90% net release of 5-hydroxytryptamine from mast cells in rat peritoneal-cell suspensions. Concentration-response curves to all four polypeptides were parallel. Polyarginine and polylysine (EC50 congruent to 0.05 microM) were approximately 100-fold more potent than immunoglobulin E decapeptide and corticotropin-(1-24)-peptide (EC50 congruent to 5 microM). Polypeptide-induced release was complete within 5-10s. Immunoglobulin-E-decapeptide-induced 5-hydroxytryptamine release was additive to that induced by low concentrations of polyarginine, but non-additive to that induced by high concentrations of polyarginine. In contrast, release induced by antigen was additive along the whole length of the concentration-response curve to polyarginine. Benzalkonium chloride inhibited immunoglobulin-E-decapeptide- and polyarginine-induced 5-hydroxytryptamine release but enhanced release induced by immunological stimulation.