1. The gene for the human histamine H2 receptor was stably expressed in Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells and characterized by [125I]-iodoaminopotentidine binding studies. In addition, the coupling of the expressed receptor protein to a variety of signal transduction pathways was investigated. 2. After cotransfection of CHO cells with pCMVhumH2 and pUT626, a phleomycine-resistant clonal cell line (CHOhumH2) was isolated that expressed 565 +/- 35 fmol kg-1 protein binding sites with high affinity (0.21 +/- 0.02 nM) for the H2 antagonist, [125I]-iodoaminopotentidine. 3. Displacement studies with a variety of H2 antagonists indicated that the encoded protein was indistinguishable from the H2 receptor identified in human brain membranes and guinea-pig right atrium. The Ki-values observed in the various preparations correlated very well (r2 = 0.996-0.920). 4. Displacement studies with histamine showed that a limited fraction (32 +/- 6%) of the binding sites showed a high affinity for histamine (2 +/- 1.2 microM); the shallow displacement curves were reflected by a Hill-coefficient significantly different from unity (nH = 0.58 +/- 0.09). The addition of 100 microM Gpp(NH)p resulted in a steepening of the displacement curve (nH = 0.79 +/- 0.02) and a loss of high affinity sites for histamine. 5. Displacement studies with other agonists indicated that the recently developed specific H2 agonists, amthamine and amselamine, showed an approximately 4-5 fold higher affinity for the human H2 receptor than histamine. 6. Stimulation of CHOhumH2 cells with histamine resulted in a rapid rise of the intracellular cyclic AMP levels. After 10 min an approximately 10 fold increase in cyclic AMP could be measured. TheEC50 value for this response was 7 +/- 1 nM for histamine. This response was effectively blocked by tiotidine and cimetidine, resulting in Ki values of 8 +/- 1 nM and 0.56 +/- 0.24 MicroM respectively.7. Stimulation of CHOhumH2 cells with histamine neither inhibited the A23187-induced release of[3H]-arachidonic acid nor changed the intracellular IP3 levels.8. These results show that the cloned human gene encodes a histamine H2 receptor that is indistinguishable from the H2 receptor identified in human brain tissue. This receptor is functionally coupled to the adenylate cyclase in CHO cells, but does not influence the inositolphosphate turnover or arachidonic acid release.