Enhanced knowledge of the pathophysiological basis of functional gastrointestinal disorders indicates that low-grade mucosal inflammation and mast cell hyperplasia are common findings. Mast cells are multipotent and mucosa-dwelling residents are uniquely located to communicate with host immune and nervous supersystems and with the gut microflora to provide tight microenvironmental conditions. Maintenance of homeostasis within this integrated defense system is crucial for symbiotic health, whereas breakdown of that balance might lead to uncontrolled mucosal and systemic inflammation. Numerous advances have recently emerged in the understanding of regulatory mechanisms of mast cell activation, development and homing to mucosal surfaces, as well as of the role of mast cells in key steps of mucosal inflammation. Such observations have stimulated the development of candidate drugs, such as tryptase or Syk inhibitors, that might be useful for the treatment of gastrointestinal functional disorders. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.