First generation H1 receptor antagonists are often associated with adverse CNS effects such as sedation, whereas modern, second generation antihistamines are generally non-sedating. The difference in therapeutic profile is mainly due to the poor CNS penetration of the modern derivatives. Current explanations for the differential ability of classical and modern antihistamines to cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB), based on differences in lipophilicity or protein binding, are inadequate. We have tested the hypothesis that non-sedating antihistamines fail to enter the CNS due to recognition by the P-glycoprotein (Pgp) drug efflux pump expressed on the luminal surface of cerebral endothelial cells forming the BBB in vivo. The ability of several sedating and non-sedating antihistamines to affect the uptake of the Pgp model substrate [3H]-colchicine was examined using the immortalised rat brain endothelial cell line, RBE4, an established in vitro model of the BBB expressing Pgp. All second generation antihistamines tested, significantly increased net accumulation of [3H]-colchicine to a level similar to that caused by the Pgp inhibitor verapamil. By contrast, the first generation antihistamines showed no affinity for Pgp. The results indicate that differences in the ability of classical and modern antihistamines to interact with Pgp at the BBB may determine their CNS penetration and as a consequence the presence or absence of central side-effects.