Histamine has been implicated, inter alia, in mechanisms underlying arousal, exploratory behaviour and emotionality. Here, we investigated behavioural and neurochemical parameters related to these concepts, including open-field activity, rotarod performance and anxiety, as well as brain acetylcholine and 5-HT concentrations of mice deficient for the histidine decarboxylase (HDC) gene. These mice are unable to synthesize histamine from its precursor histidine. The HDC-knockout mice showed reduced exploratory activity in an open-field, but normal habituation to a novel environment. They behaved more anxious than the controls, as assessed by the height-fear task and the graded anxiety test, a modified elevated plus-maze. Furthermore, motor coordination on the rotarod was superior to controls. Biochemical assessments revealed that the HDC-knockout mice had higher acetylcholine concentrations and a significantly higher 5-HT turnover in the frontal cortex, but reduced acetylcholine levels in the neostriatum. These results are suggestive of important interactions between neuronal histamine and these site-specific neurotransmitters, which may be related to the behavioural changes found in the HDC-deficient animals.
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