This study was designed to investigate the effect of ultraviolet B (UVB) irradiation on mast cell functions. Purified mast cells obtained from rat peritoneal cavity were irradiated with UVB and subsequently exposed to a degranulator, compound 48/80, or the calcium ionophore A-23187. The amount of histamine released from mast cells measured by the enzyme isotopic assay was significantly decreased by UVB irradiation (100-400 mJ/cm2). Within this dose range, UVB alone was not cytotoxic to the cells because it did not induce histamine release. The suppression was observed when mast cells were subjected to degranulation without intervals after UVB irradiation, and even after 5 h postirradiation. The wavelength of 300 nm from a monochromatic light source showed the maximum effect. When mast cells prelabeled with [3H]arachidonate were irradiated and challenged by compound 48/80, label accumulation in diacylglycerol produced by the phosphatidylinositol cycle was considerably decreased by UVB irradiation. From these results, we hypothesize that, within an adequate irradiation dose, UVB irradiation suppresses histamine release from mast cells, probably by causing noncytotoxic damage to the membrane phospholipid metabolism, which is tied to the degranulation mechanisms.