Objective: Reports that the over-the-counter histamine H2 receptor antagonist famotidine could help treat the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) appeared from April 2020. We, therefore, examined reports on interactions between severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and histamine receptor antagonists.
Methods: A systematic literature search was performed by 19 September 2020, and updated on 28 October 2020, in PubMed, Scopus, Cochrane Library and Google Scholar using (COVID-19 OR coronavirus OR SARS-CoV-2) AND (histamine antagonist OR famotidine OR cimetidine). ClinicalTrials.gov was searched for COVID-19 and (famotidine or histamine).
Results: Famotidine may be a useful addition in COVID-19 treatment, but the results from prospective randomized trials are as yet awaited. Bioinformatics/drug repurposing studies indicated that, among several medicines, H1 and H2 receptor antagonists may interact with key viral enzymes. However, in vitro studies have to date failed to show a direct inhibition of famotidine on SARS-CoV-2 replication.
Conclusions: Clinical research into the potential benefits of H2 receptor antagonists in managing COVID-19 inflammation began from a simple observation and now is being tested in multi-centre clinical trials. The positive effects of famotidine may be due to H2 receptor-mediated immunomodulatory actions on mast cell histamine-cytokine cross-talk, rather than a direct action on SARS-CoV-2.
Keywords: COVID-19; Histamine; Histamine receptor; Immunomodulation; Mast cells; SARS-CoV-2.