The effects of histamine on lipolysis and associated changes in adenosine 3',5'-monophosphate (cyclic AMP) levels were examined in the isolated canine fat cell. Histamine, like norepinephrine, caused a dose-dependent increase in free fatty acid (FFA) and glycerol levels. The lipolytic response to histamine was preceded by a rise in the levels of cyclic AMP and was greatly potentiated by the addition of theophylline. In isolated canine fat cells, histamine (2 muM) caused a 7-fold increase in FFA levels. This effect was inhibited more than 50% in the presence of insulin (0.4 mmu/ml) or prostaglandin E1 (2.8 muM). In similar experiments, cyclic AMP Levels were increased 11-fold by histamine (2 muM) in the presence of 1 mM theophylline. Burimamide (0.1 mM), a histamine H2-receptor antagonist, reduced the effect of histamine (2 muM) on FFA levels as well as the effect on cyclic AMP levels greater than 95% but did not inhibit the lipolytic response to norepinephrine (2 muM). Propranolol (0.01 mM), a beta adrenergic antagonist, reduced the lipolytic response to norepinephrine by 97% but did not inhibit the effects of histamine on FFA or cyclic AMP levels. Tripelennamine and 1,5-diphenyl-3-dimethylaminopyrrolidine, histamine H1-receptor antagonists, inhibited neither the lipolytic response to histamine nor the effect on cyclic AMP levels. It was concluded that histamine induces lipolysis in canine fat cells by a mechanism involving cyclic AMP and the histamine H2-receptor.