We tested the hypothesis that the role of histamine in the control of intestinal secretion is mediated by prostaglandins (PGs). The effects of histamine on ion transport were examined in muscle-stripped sheets of mucosa/submucosa set up in flux chambers. Histamine evoked a transient concentration-dependent increase in short-circuit current (Isc) that was reduced by the Cl- transport inhibitor bumetanide. Histamine also caused the release of PGE2. The Isc response to histamine was reduced by indomethacin and piroxicam, which block PG formation, but not by nordihydroguaiaretic acid, which prevents production of lipoxygenase products. 2-Methylhistamine, but not dimaprit, evoked a concentration-dependent increase in Isc. The Isc response to histamine was reduced by the H1-blocker pyrilamine, but not by the H2-antagonist cimetidine. In addition to its direct effect, histamine augmented the responses of endogenously released neurotransmitters with and without indomethacin and hexamethonium. Tetrodotoxin (TTX) reduced the Isc response to 10(-3) M histamine. In the presence of TTX, exogenous histamine amplified the responses to PGs, vasoactive intestinal polypeptide, 2-chloroadenosine, bethanechol, and carbachol. These results suggest that histamine acts at H1-receptors on cells within the gut to mediate intestinal Cl- secretion in part by releasing PGs and by augmenting the actions of endogenously released neurotransmitters. Our results indicate that histamine has a role in the regulation of colonic transport function.