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Br J Pharmacol. 2013 Sep;170(1):144-55. doi: 10.1111/bph.12184.

Potential enhancing effects of histamine H₁ agonism/H₃ antagonism on working memory assessed by performance and bold response in healthy volunteers.

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  • 1Centre for Neuroimaging Sciences, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, UK.



Schizophrenia is a highly debilitating disorder characterized by hallucinations and delusions, but also impaired cognition such as memory. While hallucinations and delusions are the main target for pharmacological treatment, cognitive impairments are rarely treated. Evidence exists that histamine has a role in the cognitive deficits in schizophrenia, which could be the basis of the development of a histamine-type treatment. Histamine H₃ antagonists have been shown to improve memory performance in experimental animals, but these effects have been little investigated in humans within the context of impaired cognition in schizophrenia and using sensitive measures of brain activity. In the present study, the effects of betahistine (H₃ antagonist/H₁ agonist) on learning and memory, and associated brain activity were assessed.


Sixteen healthy volunteers (eight female) aged between 18 and 50 years received two p.o. doses of betahistine (48 mg) or placebo separated by 30 min, on separate days according to a two-way, double-blind, crossover design. Volunteers performed an N-back working memory task and a spatial paired associates learning task while being scanned using a MRI scanner.


Task-related activity changes in well-defined networks and performance were observed. No betahistine-induced changes in brain activity were found in these networks. Alternatively, liberal whole-brain analyses showed activity changes in areas outside task networks, like the lateral geniculate nucleus.


Clear effects of betahistine on working memory could not be established. Future studies should use higher doses and explore the role of histamine in visual information processing.

© 2013 The Authors. British Journal of Pharmacology © 2013 The British Pharmacological Society.


H1 agonist; H3 antagonist; MRI; betahistine; histamine; human cognition; imaging; learning; memory

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