Histamine in Neurotransmission and Brain Diseases

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Abstract

Apart from its central role in the mediation of allergic reactions, gastric acid secretion and inflammation in the periphery, histamine serves an important function as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. The histaminergic neurons originate from the tuberomamillary nucleus of the posterior hypothalamus and send projections to most parts of the brain. The central histamine system is involved in many brain functions such as arousal, control of pituitary hormone secretion, suppression of eating and cognitive functions. The effects of neuronal histamine are mediated via G-protein-coupled H1-H4 receptors. The prominent role of histamine as a wake-promoting substance has drawn interest to treat sleep-wake disorders, especially narcolepsy, via modulation of H3 receptor function. Post mortem studies have revealed alterations in histaminergic system in neurological and psychiatric diseases. Brain histamine levels are decreased in Alzheimer’s disease patients whereas abnormally high histamine concentrations are found in the brains of Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenic patients. Low histamine levels are associated with convulsions and seizures. The release of histamine is altered in response to different types of brain injury: e.g. increased release of histamine in an ischemic brain trauma might have a role in the recovery from neuronal damage. Neuronal histamine is also involved in the pain perception. Drugs that increase brain and spinal histamine concentrations have antinociceptive properties. Histaminergic drugs, most importantly histamine H3 receptors ligands, have shown efficacy in many animal models of the above-mentioned disorders. Ongoing clinical trials will reveal the efficacy and safety of these drugs in the treatment of human patients.