Post-consolidation immunotherapy with histamine dihydrochloride and interleukin-2 has been shown to improve leukemia-free survival in acute myeloid leukemia in a phase III trial. For this study, treatment efficacy was determined among 145 trial patients with morphological forms of acute myeloid leukemia as defined by the French-American-British classification. Leukemia-free survival was strongly improved in M4/M5 (myelomonocytic/monocytic) leukemia but not in M2 (myeloblastic) leukemia. We also analyzed histamine H(2) receptor expression by leukemic cells recovered from 26 newly diagnosed patients. H(2) receptors were typically absent from M2 cells but frequently expressed by M4/M5 cells. M4/M5 cells, but not M2 cells, produced reactive oxygen species that triggered apoptosis in adjacent natural killer cells. These events were significantly inhibited by histamine dihydrochloride. Our data demonstrate the presence of functional histamine H(2) receptors on human AML cells and suggest that expression of these receptors by leukemic cells may impact on the effectiveness of histamine-based immunotherapy.