Histamine in the regulation of wakefulness

Sleep Med Rev. 2011 Feb;15(1):65-74. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2010.06.004. Epub 2010 Sep 20.


The histaminergic system is exclusively localized within the posterior hypothalamus with projection to almost all the major regions of the central nervous system. Strong and consistent evidence exist to suggest that histamine, acting via H₁ and/or H₃ receptor has a pivotal role in the regulation of sleep-wakefulness. Administration of histamine or H₁ receptor agonists induces wakefulness, whereas administration of H₁ receptor antagonists promotes sleep. The H₃ receptor functions as an auto-receptor and regulates the synthesis and release of histamine. Activation of H₃ receptor reduces histamine release and promotes sleep. Conversely, blockade of H₃ receptor promotes wakefulness. Histamine release in the hypothalamus and other target regions is highest during wakefulness. The histaminergic neurons display maximal activity during the state of high vigilance, and cease their activity during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. The cerebrospinal levels of histamine are reduced in diseased states where hypersomnolence is a major symptom. The histamine deficient L-histidine decarboxylase knockout (HDC KO) mice display sleep fragmentation and increased REM sleep during the light period along with profound wakefulness deficit at dark onset, and in novel environment. Similar results have been obtained when histamine neurons are lesioned. These studies strongly implicate the histaminergic neurons of the TMN to play a critical role in the maintenance of high vigilance state during wakefulness.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Histamine / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / metabolism
  • Receptors, Histamine H1 / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Neuropeptide / metabolism
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Sleep Disorders, Intrinsic / metabolism*
  • Sleep, REM / physiology
  • Wakefulness / physiology*


  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Receptors, Histamine H1
  • Receptors, Neuropeptide
  • Histamine