Neuronal histamine regulates several functions in the vertebrate brain. The zebrafish brain contains a widespread histaminergic system and H(3) receptor ligand binding has been reported. In this study we provide evidence for the existence of histamine H(1), H(2) and H(3) receptor genes in zebrafish. Single copies of putative histamine H(1), H(2) and H(3) receptors were identified and cloned from the zebrafish brain. Expression analysis suggested that they are expressed in the brain and a few other tissues. Widespread distribution of zebrafish H(2) receptor binding sites was detected with [(125)I]iodoaminopotentidine in brain sections. Zebrafish larvae were exposed to 1, 10 or 100 microM of the H(1) ligand pyrilamine, the H(2) ligand cimetidine and the H(3) ligands thioperamide and immepip for 5 days. Significant decreases in swimming distance were observed with the highest dose of all ligands, whereas cimetidine gave a significant decrease also with 1 and 10 microM doses. These results provide the first molecular biological evidence for the presence of histamine receptors in zebrafish. These histamine receptors resemble those of higher vertebrates and they provide a useful model for pharmacological and behavioral studies for characterizing the functions of histamine in more detail.