Mucosal mast cells (MMC) play an important role in the immune response against selected species of intestinal nematode. The kinetics with which different strains of inbred mice resolve infection with Trichinella spiralis correlates with their ability to mount MMC responses in the intestinal mucosa. Homologues of MMC that express and constitutively secrete abundant amounts of the granule chymase, mouse mast cell protease-1 (mMCP-1), can be generated in vitro from bone marrow cultures supplemented with interleukins-3 and -9, stem cell factor and transforming growth factor-β1. Using the enhanced growth characteristics of these MMC homologues, a novel limiting dilution assay for mast cell precursor (MCp) frequency has been developed. The assay is highly specific, in that cultures containing mast cells are identified with mMCP-1 specific antibody, and almost three-fold more sensitive than previously published systems. MCp frequencies were compared in BALB/c and C57/BL10 strains of mice that, respectively, respond rapidly and slowly to infection with T. spiralis. MCp frequency (1/378 bone marrow cells) was significantly greater (P<0.05) in BALB/c than C57/BL10 mice (frequency: 1/751). Similarly the rate of growth of MMC homologues and the production of mMCP-1 was significantly (P<0.05) greater in BALB/c than in C57/BL10 bone marrow cultures.