The role of mast cells in the elicitation of contact sensitivity (CS) responses was evaluated by transferring different aliquots of the same preparations of immune lymph node cells (I-LNC) into naive, genetically mast cell-deficient (WBB6F1-W/Wv or WCB6F1-S1/S1d) mice and the corresponding congenic normal (+/+) mice. We found that the 24-hr CS responses elicited in the recipient mast cell-deficient mice were statistically indistinguishable from those in the congenic +/+ mice according to four different criteria: micrometer measurements of ear swelling, ratios of the weight or [125I]iododeoxyuridine-labeled leukocyte infiltration-associated cpm in challenged and contralateral control ears, and amount of 125I-fibrin deposition. We also transferred I-LNC into WBB6F1-W/Wv mice which, 5 months earlier, had undergone local repair of their mast cell deficiency by the intradermal injection (into the left ear only) of growth factor-dependent cultured mast cells derived from congenic +/+ mice. When 24-hr CS responses were elicited in both ears of these mice, the reactions in the mast cell-reconstituted left ears were similar to those in the mast cell-deficient right ears. We also found that treatment of antigen-specific cloned T cells with reserpine in vitro markedly impaired their ability to transfer reactivity for CS, providing further evidence that reserpine can interfere with the expression of T-cell-mediated responses through effects independent of its action on mast cells.