Loratadine is a powerful H1 antagonist commonly employed in the treatment of allergic disorders. The present study was performed to investigate whether loratadine, in addition to anti-H1 activity, is able to modulate histamine release from human basophils. Leukocyte suspensions were prepared by dextran sedimentation of peripheral venous blood drawn from 10 normal subjects. Leukocytes were stimulated with anti-IgE (1/5,000), N-formyl-methionyl-leucyl-phenylalanine (FMLP; 10 microM) and the Ca2+ ionophore A23187 (1 microM), and histamine release in the cell supernatants was measured by an automated fluorometric method. Loratadine, at concentrations ranging from 1 to 50 microM, exerted a dose-dependent inhibitory effect on IgE-mediated and IgE-independent histamine release. The concentrations inhibiting 50% of histamine release were 30 microM (anti-IgE), 29 microM (FMLP) and 24 microM (Ca2+ ionophore A23187). The inhibitory activity of loratadine was optimal after incubation for 2 h at 37 degrees C and the effect of the drug was no longer evident when leukocytes were stimulated 2 h after cell washing. Increased extracellular Ca2+ concentrations reduced the inhibitory activity of loratadine, indicating that external Ca2+ and loratadine have antagonistic effects on basophil histamine release. These results indicate that loratadine, in addition to H1 receptor blocking activity, has the capacity to inhibit histamine release from human basophils.