Histamine and H1-antihistamines: celebrating a century of progress

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2011 Dec;128(6):1139-1150.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2011.09.005. Epub 2011 Oct 27.


In this review we celebrate a century of progress since the initial description of the physiologic and pathologic roles of histamine and 70 years of progress since the introduction of H(1)-antihistamines for clinical use. We discuss histamine and clinically relevant information about the molecular mechanisms of action of H(1)-antihistamines as inverse agonists (not antagonists or blockers) with immunoregulatory effects. Unlike first (old)-generation H(1)-antihistamines introduced from 1942 to the mid-1980s, most of the second (new)-generation H(1)-antihistamines introduced subsequently have been investigated extensively with regard to clinical pharmacology, efficacy, and safety; moreover, they are relatively free from adverse effects and not causally linked with fatalities after overdose. Important advances include improved nasal and ophthalmic H(1)-antihistamines with rapid onset of action (in minutes) for allergic rhinitis and allergic conjunctivitis treatment, respectively, and effective and safe use of high (up to 4-fold) doses of oral second-generation H(1)-antihistamines for chronic urticaria treatment. New H(1)-antihistamines introduced for clinical use include oral formulations (bilastine and rupatadine), and ophthalmic formulations (alcaftadine and bepotastine). Clinical studies of H(3)-antihistamines with enhanced decongestant effects have been conducted in patients with allergic rhinitis. Additional novel compounds being studied include H(4)-antihistamines with anti-inflammatory effects in allergic rhinitis, atopic dermatitis, and other diseases. Antihistamines have a storied past and a promising future.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Allergic Agents / history*
  • Anti-Allergic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Histamine / history*
  • Histamine / therapeutic use
  • Histamine H1 Antagonists / history*
  • Histamine H1 Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / drug therapy
  • Hypersensitivity / history*


  • Anti-Allergic Agents
  • Histamine H1 Antagonists
  • Histamine