Distinct roles of histamine H1-and H2-receptor signaling pathways in inflammation-associated colonic tumorigenesis

Zhongcheng Shi, Robert S. Fultz, Melinda A. Engevik, Chunxu Gao, Anne Hall, Angela Major, Yuko Mori-Akiyama, James Versalovic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a well-known risk factor for the development of colorectal cancer. Prior studies have demonstrated that microbial histamine can ameliorate intestinal inflammation in mice. We tested the hypothesis whether microbe-derived luminal histamine suppresses inflammation-associated colon cancer in Apc min/+ mice. Mice were colonized with the human-derived Lactobacillus reuteri. Chronic inflammation was induced by repeated cycles of low-dose dextran sulfate sodium (DSS). Mice that were given histamine-producing L. reuteri via oral gavage developed fewer colonic tumors, despite the presence of a complex mouse gut microbiome. We further demonstrated that administration of a histamine H1-receptor (H1R) antagonist suppressed tumorigenesis, while administration of histamine H2-receptor (H2R) antagonist significantly increased both tumor number and size. The bimodal functions of histamine include protumorigenic effects through H1R and antitumorigenic effects via H2R, and these results were supported by gene expression profiling studies on tumor specimens of patients with colorectal cancer. Greater ratios of gene expression of H2R (HRH2) vs. H1R (HRH1) were correlated with improved overall survival outcomes in patients with colorectal cancer. Additionally, activation of H2R suppressed phosphorylation of mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) and inhibited chemokine gene expression induced by H1R activation in colorectal cancer cells. Moreover, the combination of a H1R antagonist and a H2R agonist yielded potent suppression of lipopolysaccharide-induced MAPK signaling in macrophages. Given the impact on intestinal epithelial and immune cells, simultaneous modulation of H1R and H2R signaling pathways may be a promising therapeutic target for the prevention and treatment of inflammation-associated colorectal cancer. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Histamine-producing Lactobacillus reuteri can suppress development of inflammation-associated colon cancer in an established mouse model. The net effects of histamine may depend on the relative activity of H1R and H2R signaling pathways in the intestinal mucosa. Our findings suggest that treatment with H1R or H2R antagonists could yield opposite effects. However, by harnessing the ability to block H1R signaling while stimulating H2R signaling, novel strategies for suppression of intestinal inflammation and colorectal neoplasia could be developed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)G205-G216
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Histamine receptors
  • Inflammation-associated colon cancer
  • Lactobacillus
  • MAP kinases
  • Macrophages

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Physiology (medical)


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