Mast cells (MC) are major effector cells of IgE-mediated allergic inflammation. However, it has become increasingly clear that they also play important roles in a diversity of physiological and pathological processes. Recent advances have focused on the importance of MC in both innate and adaptive immune responses and have fostered studies of MC beyond the myopic focus on allergic reactions. MC possess a great variety of surface receptors and may be activated by inflammatory mediators, immunoglobulins, proteases, hormones, neuropeptides and bacterial products. Following activation they produce a plethora of pro-inflammatory mediators and may participate in inflammatory reactions in many organs. This review focuses on the role of MC in inflammatory reactions in mucosal surfaces with particular emphasis on their role in asthma and gastrointestinal inflammatory conditions.