The objective of this study was to define the nature, magnitude, and mechanisms of histamine-induced leukocyte-endothelial cell interactions in postcapillary venules of the rat mesentery using intravital microscopic techniques. Superfusion of the mesentery with histamine (10(-7)-10(-5) M) resulted in a dose-related increase in the number of rolling leukocytes, a reduction in rolling velocity, and an increased clearance of FITC-labeled rat albumin from blood to superfusate. The histamine-induced recruitment of rolling leukocytes and increased albumin clearance were prevented by histamine H1 (hydroxyzine, diphenhydramine) but not H2 (cimetidine) receptor antagonists. Because histamine induces expression of the adhesion molecule P-selectin in cultured endothelial cells, a monoclonal antibody directed against rat P-selectin and soluble sialyl-LewisX oligosaccharide (the carbohydrate ligand to P-selectin) were also tested as inhibitors. Both were effective in preventing the histamine-induced recruitment of rolling leukocytes, but neither agent attenuated the increased albumin clearance. These observations suggest that (a) histamine recruits rolling leukocytes and increases albumin leakage in postcapillary venules via H1 receptor activation, (b) histamine-induced recruitment of rolling leukocytes is mediated in part by P-selectin expressed on the endothelial cell surface, and (c) the histamine-induced vascular albumin leakage is unrelated to leukocyte-endothelial cell adhesion. Our results are consistent with the view that histamine may act as a mediator of acute inflammatory reactions.