Involvement of the brain histaminergic system in addiction and addiction-related behaviors: a comprehensive review with emphasis on the potential therapeutic use of histaminergic compounds in drug dependence

Prog Neurobiol. 2010 Nov;92(3):421-41. doi: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2010.07.002. Epub 2010 Jul 16.


Neurons that produce histamine are exclusively located in the tuberomamillary nucleus of the posterior hypothalamus and send widespread projections to almost all brain areas. Neuronal histamine is involved in many physiological and behavioral functions such as arousal, feeding behavior and learning. Although conflicting data have been published, several studies have also demonstrated a role of histamine in the psychomotor and rewarding effects of addictive drugs. Pharmacological and brain lesion experiments initially led to the proposition that the histaminergic system exerts an inhibitory influence on drug reward processes, opposed to that of the dopaminergic system. The purpose of this review is to summarize the relevant literature on this topic and to discuss whether the inhibitory function of histamine on drug reward is supported by current evidence from published results. Research conducted during the past decade demonstrated that the ability of many antihistaminic drugs to potentiate addiction-related behaviors essentially results from non-specific effects and does not constitute a valid argument in support of an inhibitory function of histamine on reward processes. The reviewed findings also indicate that histamine can either stimulate or inhibit the dopamine mesolimbic system through distinct neuronal mechanisms involving different histamine receptors. Finally, the hypothesis that the histaminergic system plays an inhibitory role on drug reward appears to be essentially supported by place conditioning studies that focused on morphine reward. The present review suggests that the development of drugs capable of activating the histaminergic system may offer promising therapeutic tools for the treatment of opioid dependence.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Addictive* / drug therapy
  • Behavior, Addictive* / metabolism
  • Behavior, Addictive* / physiopathology
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Histamine / metabolism
  • Histamine / physiology*
  • Histamine / therapeutic use*
  • Histamine Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Histamine / metabolism
  • Reward
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / drug therapy
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / metabolism
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / physiopathology


  • Histamine Antagonists
  • Receptors, Histamine
  • Histamine
  • Dopamine