Cloned mouse mast cells resemble, by ultrastructure, immature mast cells observed in vivo. These mast cell clones can be grown in the absence of any other cells, facilitating direct investigations of their biochemistry and function. We find that cloned mast cells express plasma membrane receptors (Fc epsilon R) that bind mouse IgE with an equilibrium constant (KA) similar to that of normal mouse peritoneal mast cells. In addition, cloned mast cells do not display detectable la antigens and cannot enhance lg secretion when added to lymphocyte cultures or mediate natural killer lysis. In the presence of 1 mM sodium butyrate, cloned mast cells stop dividing and acquire abundant electron-dense cytoplasmic granules similar to those of mature mast cells. Their histamine content increases concomitant with cytoplasmic granule maturation and may exceed that of untreated mast cells by 50-fold. Unlike peritoneal mast cells, cloned mast cells incorporate 35SO4 into chondroitin sulfates rather than heparin. These findings demonstrate that, unlike fully differentiated mouse peritoneal mast cells, cloned immature mouse mast cells contain no heparin and low levels of histamine. In addition, they establish that high-affinity Fc epsilon R are expressed early in mast cell maturation, well before completion of cytoplasmic granule synthesis and mediator storage.