Mast cell degranulating (MCD) peptide was modified in its two disulfide bridges and in the two arginine residues in order to measure the ability of these analogs to induce histamine release from mast cells in vitro. Analogs prepared were [Ala(3,15)]MCD, [Ala(5,19)]MCD, [Orn(16)]MCD, and [Orn(7,16)]MCD. Their histamine-releasing activity was determined spectrofluorometrically with peritoneal mast cells. The monocyclic analogs in which the cysteine residues were replaced pairwise with alanine residues showed three-to ten-fold diminished histamine-releasing activity respectively, compared with the parent MCD peptide. Substantial increases in activity were observed where arginine residues were replaced by ornithines. The ornithine-mono substituted analog showed an almost six-fold increase and the ornithine-doubly substituted analog three-fold increase in histamine-releasing activity compared with the parent MCD peptide. The structural changes associated with these activities were followed by circular dichroism (CD) spectroscopy. Changes in the shape and ellipticity of the CD spectra reflected a role for the disulfide bonds and the two arginine residues in the overall conformation and biological activity of the molecule.