Histamine is an established growth factor for gastric and colorectal cancer. Contradictory data for response of melanoma to histamine have been reported. Our aims were to determine the effect of histamine and H1 and H2 receptor antagonists on cell growth and cyclic AMP production. Four human melanoma cell lines were cultured with a range of concentrations of histamine, and with the H2 receptor antagonists cimetidine, ranitidine or famotidine, or the H1 receptor antagonist diphenhydramine. Cellular proliferation was measured by the uptake of [3H]-thymidine. Cyclic AMP production was also measured to determine the receptor status of the cell lines. Histamine significantly stimulated growth in two of four cell lines, with maximal stimulation at 1 x 10(-8) M. This effect was inhibited by all four antagonists in a dose-dependent manner. Histamine [10(-7) to 10(-4) M] also induced a dose-dependent increase in cyclic AMP production in the two histamine-responsive cell lines, suggesting that these cell lines express H2 receptors. We conclude that there may be a role for histamine receptor antagonists in melanoma treatment and that further investigation is warranted.