Mast cells are traditionally associated with an acute response involving the short-term release of mediators such as histamine. We have shown previously that mast cells can produce IL-6 without prior histamine release. In this study we examined the hypothesis that mast cell IL-6 production can be selectively regulated by PGs. Highly purified rat peritoneal mast cells were cultured in the presence of PGE1, PGE2, or PGD2 alone or in combination with anti-IgE or bacterial LPS. Histamine release was assessed after 10 min; IL-6 and TNF-alpha production was measured in supernatants after 18 h. Mast cell IL-6 production was induced by PGE1 and PGE2 to a similar level to that observed in anti-IgE-activated cells. In contrast, constitutive production of TNF-alpha was inhibited by PGE1 and PGE2, but not by PGD2. PGE2 had a synergistic effect, inducing IL-6 in the presence of LPS, whereas an additive effect was observed in the presence of anti-IgE. None of the prostanoids alone induced significant histamine release at the 10-min time point. However, PGE2 significantly increased histamine release when added concurrently with anti-IgE. Flurbiprofen in the context of anti-IgE or LPS activation did not alter mast cell IL-6 or TNF-alpha production. IL-6 production in response to each of the stimuli was significantly inhibited by the corticosteroid dexamethasone. These observations of selective modulation of mast cell cytokine production are important to understand the mechanisms by which mast cells interact with other cells during an inflammatory process involving prostanoid synthesis.