The physiology of brain histamine

Prog Neurobiol. 2001 Apr;63(6):637-72. doi: 10.1016/s0301-0082(00)00039-3.


Histamine-releasing neurons are located exclusively in the TM of the hypothalamus, from where they project to practically all brain regions, with ventral areas (hypothalamus, basal forebrain, amygdala) receiving a particularly strong innervation. The intrinsic electrophysiological properties of TM neurons (slow spontaneous firing, broad action potentials, deep after hyperpolarisations, etc.) are extremely similar to other aminergic neurons. Their firing rate varies across the sleep-wake cycle, being highest during waking and lowest during rapid-eye movement sleep. In contrast to other aminergic neurons somatodendritic autoreceptors (H3) do not activate an inwardly rectifying potassium channel but instead control firing by inhibiting voltage-dependent calcium channels. Histamine release is enhanced under extreme conditions such as dehydration or hypoglycemia or by a variety of stressors. Histamine activates four types of receptors. H1 receptors are mainly postsynaptically located and are coupled positively to phospholipase C. High densities are found especially in the hypothalamus and other limbic regions. Activation of these receptors causes large depolarisations via blockade of a leak potassium conductance, activation of a non-specific cation channel or activation of a sodium-calcium exchanger. H2 receptors are also mainly postsynaptically located and are coupled positively to adenylyl cyclase. High densities are found in hippocampus, amygdala and basal ganglia. Activation of these receptors also leads to mainly excitatory effects through blockade of calcium-dependent potassium channels and modulation of the hyperpolarisation-activated cation channel. H3 receptors are exclusively presynaptically located and are negatively coupled to adenylyl cyclase. High densities are found in the basal ganglia. These receptors mediated presynaptic inhibition of histamine release and the release of other neurotransmitters, most likely via inhibition of presynaptic calcium channels. Finally, histamine modulates the glutamate NMDA receptor via an action at the polyamine binding site. The central histamine system is involved in many central nervous system functions: arousal; anxiety; activation of the sympathetic nervous system; the stress-related release of hormones from the pituitary and of central aminergic neurotransmitters; antinociception; water retention and suppression of eating. A role for the neuronal histamine system as a danger response system is proposed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Histamine / metabolism*
  • Homeostasis / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamic Area, Lateral / cytology
  • Hypothalamic Area, Lateral / metabolism*
  • Ion Channels / metabolism
  • Neural Pathways / cytology
  • Neural Pathways / metabolism*
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Histamine / metabolism


  • Ion Channels
  • Receptors, Histamine
  • Histamine