The effect of cromoglycate and of natural flavonoids on histamine release from peritoneal rat mast cells induced by compound 48/80 and ionophore A23187 was studied according to preincubation time of mast cells with drugs and to incubation time of cells with the triggering agent. Preincubation of cells with cromoglycate, dihydroquercetin and amentoflavone, a biflavonoid, decreased the potency of drugs to inhibit the ionophore-induced release; the optimal inhibitions were observed when drugs were added simultaneously with the ionophore A23187. In contrast, a short preincubation (2 min) of cells with quercetin or luteolin decreased their inhibitory effect on the ionophore-induced release, whereas a longer preincubation increased the inhibition. When compound 48/80 was used to trigger histamine secretion, the inhibitory potencies of all the compounds used were decreased according to preincubation time. Dihydroquercetin (taxifolin), previously considered as inactive, showed an interesting cromoglycate-like behaviour.