Histamine, added to the basolateral side of voltage clamped human colon in vitro, induced a rapid onset, transient inward short circuit current which was concentration dependent over the range 0.01-3 mM. This response was largely due to electrogenic chloride section since it was virtually abolished by bumetanide or by chloride replacement in the bathing solutions. Responses were unaffected by amiloride or acetazolamide. Neither the histamine H2 receptor agonist dimaprit (1 mM) nor the histamine H3 receptor agonist S-(+)-alpha-methyl histamine (1 mM) altered short circuit current. Responses to histamine were significantly reduced by the histamine H1 receptor antagonist mepyramine (1-10 microM) but not altered by the histamine H2 receptor antagonist cimetidine (100 microM) or by the histamine H3 receptor antagonist thioperamide (1 microM). Short circuit current responses to histamine were not altered by tetrodotoxin (1 microM). Piroxicam (10 microM) and nordihydroguaiaretic acid (100 microM) were without effect when used individually but significantly reduced responses to histamine when used simultaneously. These results indicate that histamine stimulates chloride secretion across human colonic epithelium by a mechanism which is mediated exclusively via histamine H1 receptors. This action does not involve intrinsic nerves but appears to be dependent upon eicosanoid synthesis.