The modulatory role of histamine H3 receptors in pulmonary oedema induced by acetylcholine, capsaicin and by exogenous substance P was investigated in isolated, ventilated rabbit lungs. Endothelial permeability was evaluated by measuring the capillary filtration coefficient (Kf,c). Acetylcholine (10(-8) to 10(-4) M), substance P (10(-10) to 10(-6) M), capsaicin (10(-4) M) and 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) (10(-4) M) induced an increase in the Kf,c. Carboperamide, a novel histamine H3 receptor antagonist, induced a significant leftward shift of the concentration-response curve to acetylcholine and also enhanced the effect of capsaicin on the Kf,c, while it had no significant effect on the response to substance P and 5-HT. Imetit, a new histamine H3 receptor agonist, strongly inhibited the effects of acetylcholine and capsaicin. Imetit also strongly protected the lung against substance P effects but did not prevent the 5-HT-induced increase in the Kf,c. Carboperamide completely blocked the inhibitory effect of Imetit on the acetylcholine response. (R)-alpha-Methylhistamine, an other histamine H3 receptor agonist, had the same protective effect against acetylcholine response as Imetit. We conclude that histamine H3 receptors could protect the lung against acetylcholine- and capsaicin-induced oedema via a prejunctional modulatory effect on the C-fibres. However, since the response to exogenous substance P was also inhibited by histamine H3 receptor stimulation, the presence of such receptors at a postsynaptic level, probably on mast cells, was also suggested.