Drugs acting at the three known classes of histamine receptors were injected intracerebroventricularly into the rat. The effects of these drugs upon synaptic potentials recorded from the dentate gyrus of the freely-moving rat were determined. Population spikes and field excitatory postsynaptic potentials were recorded from the granule cell layer of the dentate gyrus following stimulation of the perforant path. Drugs, dissolved in 0.9% NaCl were applied into the lateral cerebral ventricle in a volume of 5 microl over a period of 6 min. The histamine H1 receptor antagonist mepyramine (0.4 or 0.8 microg) had no significant effect on population spikes or field excitatory postsynaptic potentials. In contrast the H2 receptor antagonist cimetidine (3.25, 6.5 or 13 microg) showed a biphasic effect. At the lower doses (3.25 or 6.5 microg) a small (15%) depression of the field excitatory postsynaptic potentials and population spikes was observed beginning about 1 h following the infusion. At the highest dose tested (13 microg) a marked increase of the population spike was observed beginning immediately following the infusion and lasting for 90 min. Application of the H3 receptor agonist R-alpha-methylhistamine (0.2 microg) depressed the field excitatory postsynaptic potentials (15% at 4 h post-injection) and even more strongly the population spike (50%). Surprisingly, at higher doses (0.4 and 0.8 microg) no effect was seen. The H3 receptor antagonist thioperamide (0.41 and 0.82 microg) did not cause an increase in synaptic potentials but rather at the highest dose a small depression occurred at later time points (2-4 h following the infusion). At the lower dose (0.41 microg) thioperamide blocked the effect of R-alpha-methylhistamine (0.2 microg). These results show that the histaminergic system modulates information flow through the dentate gyrus in a complex manner involving both histamine H2 and H1 receptors.