Hyperpigmentation frequently accompanies chronic or acute inflammation. A number of inflammatory mediators have been shown to stimulate melanin synthesis in human melanocytes. Although histamine is ubiquitous as an inflammatory factor, its involvement in pigmentation remains obscure. In this work, we examined the effects of histamine on cultured human melanocytes. Treatment of human melanocytes with 0.1-10 microM histamine evoked morphologic changes and increases in tyrosinase activity. The concomitant increases in melanin content of the histamine-treated melanocytes indicated an elevation of melanin synthesis by tyrosinase activation. These stimulatory effects of histamine were completely inhibited by an H2 antagonist, famotidine, whereas H1 and H3 antagonists had no inhibitory effect whatsoever. In addition, an H2 agonist, dimaprit, induced the same degree of melanogenesis as histamine at concentrations of 0.1-10 microM. We observed an increase in the intracellular cAMP contents of human melanocytes induced by histamine via the H2 receptors. We know that this cAMP accumulation and subsequent protein kinase A activation plays a critical role in histamine-induced melanogenesis, because a specific protein kinase A inhibitor, H-89, completely suppressed these stimulatory effects of histamine, and because dibutylic cAMP, a specific protein kinase A activator, stimulated human melanocytes as potently as histamine. Taken together, we show here that histamine induces melanogenesis of human cultured melanocytes by protein kinase A activation via H2 receptors.