These studies examine the distribution of single-cell responses in basophil preparations in the context of four events that may be associated with early activation by anti-immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody and the bacterial peptide fMet-Leu-Phe (fMLP). In general, we measured the single-cell response distributions after challenge with a concentration of stimulus that resulted in an optimal response and compared this with the distribution that occurred after challenge with suboptimal concentrations of the same stimulus. The elevation in cytosolic calcium, as detected in Fura-2-labeled basophils, after challenge with anti-IgE or fMLP showed graded characteristics in that the distributions were unimodal under conditions of optimal or suboptimal challenge with little skewing from a normal distribution. Similarly, the up-regulation of the cell surface adhesion molecule CD11b, as determined by flow cytometry, showed graded unimodal increases after challenge with anti-IgE antibody at optimal and suboptimal concentrations. In addition, stimulation of basophils led to increased F-actin polymerization. After challenge with an optimal concentration of anti-IgE antibody, the F-actin content of basophils increased to a maximum between 10 and 15 min and returned to near prechallenge levels by 60 min. There was a close correlation between the maximum increase in F-actin content and histamine release regardless of the stimulus; anti-IgE antibody, fMLP, and phorbol ester (PMA) responses lay on the same regression line. The single-cell F-actin polymerization distributions were also unimodal and graded according to the magnitude of the histamine release response. During measurements of the calcium response under the microscope we noted that basophils underwent significant changes in morphology after challenge with any stimulus. These changes were related to both degranulation and nondegranulation events and could be quantitated by a series of image-processing algorithms, which are presented. The kinetics of the morphological change, measured as a change in cell perimeter, paralleled degranulation. Single-cell distributions of the morphologic changes were also unimodal under conditions of both optimal and suboptimal stimulation. Therefore, no evidence of all-or-nothing responses could be observed in the context of these four early activation events. In general, the response distributions resembled normal distributions at both optimal and suboptimal levels of stimulation, which indicated that single basophils responded in a graded manner.