To test the hypothesis that histamine receptors mediate increased blood-retinal barrier permeability in experimental diabetes, 51 rats were made diabetic by streptozocin injection (65 mg/kg; jugular vein) and were held for four weeks. The seven animal groups were as follows: untreated controls; untreated diabetic rats; diabetic rats receiving diphenhydramine hydrochloride (Benadryl); diabetic rats receiving cimetidine hydrochloride (Tagamet); diabetic rats receiving diphenhydramine and cimetidine; diabetic rats receiving purified pork insulin (Iletin II); and diabetic rats receiving insulin and diphenhydramine. All treatments were given during the last week. Blood-retinal barrier permeability was assessed through measurement of the vitreous content of fluorescein isothiocyanate conjugated to bovine serum albumin (FITCBSA) after 20 minutes of FITCBSA circulation. Vitreous FITCBSA content of the diabetic group was 64% greater than control content. Diabetic rats treated with either diphenhydramine or diphenhydramine and insulin had respective decreases of 43% and 40% in vitreous FITCBSA content. The vitreous content of the diabetic group receiving insulin was lowered 37% below untreated diabetic values, while the vitreous FITCBSA content of the diabetic group receiving both insulin and diphenhydramine was reduced 63%. These data indicate that retinal histamine H1-receptor activation may be partially responsible for initial blood-retinal barrier leakage of macromolecules into the vitreous and that this abnormal leakage can be prevented both by diphenhydramine and by insulin. Histamine H1 receptors may play an important role in mediating increased blood-retinal barrier permeability in experimental diabetes.