The normal skin and other tissues of adult mast cell-deficient WBB6F1- W/Wv or WCB6F1-Sl/Sld mice contain less than 1.0% the number of mast cells present in the corresponding tissues of the congenic normal (+/+) mice. As a result, genetically mast cell-deficient WBB6F1-W/Wv or WCB6F1-Sl/Sld mice are widely used for studies of mast cell differentiation and function. We found that mast cells developed at sites of idiopathic chronic dermatitis in WBB6F1-W/Wv mice and that the number of mast cells present in the skin of WBB6F1-W/Wv mice was proportional to the severity of the dermatitis (in ear skin, there were 33 +/- 4 mast cells/mm2 of dermis at sites of severe dermatitis v 9 +/- 3 at sites of mild dermatitis, 0.8 +/- 0.3 in skin without dermatitis, and 100 +/- 7 in the normal skin of congenic WBB6F1-+/+ mice; in back skin, the corresponding values were 2.0 +/- 0.6, 1.1 +/- 0.9, 0.025 +/- 0.025, and 26.2 +/- 3.2). The development of mast cells was a local, not systemic, consequence of the dermatitis. Thus, WBB6F1-W/Wv mice with severe dermatitis lacked mast cells in skin not showing signs of dermatitis and also in the peritoneal cavity, stomach, cecum, and tongue. Idiopathic chronic dermatitis was not associated with the local development of mast cells in WCB6F1-Sl/Sld mice, a mutant whose mast cell deficiency is due to a mechanism distinct from that of WBB6F1-W/Wv mice. These findings may have implications for understanding the nature of the mast cell deficiency in WBB6F1-W/Wv and WCB6F1-Sl/Sld mice and for the use of these mutants to analyze mast cell differentiation and function.