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Organic compound found in nearly all animal tissues, in microorganisms, and in some plants. Its release stimulates many smooth muscles to contract, such as those in the gastrointestinal tract, uterus, and the bronchi. It causes fine blood vessels to dilate and become more permeable, causing the runny nose, watery eyes, and tissue swelling of hay fever and some other allergies. Histamine appears to have a physiological role in the body's defenses against a hostile environment, since it may be released when the body is subjected to trauma, infection, or some drugs. Under extreme circumstances, the effects of histamine lead to exaggerated responses with distressing results, as may occur in some allergic conditions (seeanaphylaxis). Stinging nettles and certain insect venoms contain histamine. In humans, histamine is formed by removal of a carboxyl group from histidine. Its effects are counteracted by antihistamines.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on histamine, visit Britannica.com.