BACKGROUND: Animal models have shown histamine to be released from the skin during the acute phase of a burn injury. The role of histamine during the early phase of thermal injuries in humans remains unclear. PURPOSE: The objectives of this trial were to study histamine release in human skin during the acute phase of a standardized thermal injury in healthy volunteers. METHODS: Histamine concentrations in human skin were measured by skin microdialysis technique. Microdialysis fibers were inserted into the dermis in the lower leg in male healthy volunteers. A standardized superficial thermal injury was elicited by a heating thermode (49 degrees C) applied to the skin for 5 min. Histamine in dialysate was analyzed for up to 2 h after the injury using two different analytical methods. RESULTS: Spectrofluorometric assay of histamine showed no histamine release in separate studies using 2-min samples over 20 min (n = 6) and 5-10-min samples over 120 min (n = 8). The histamine values were at the limits of the quantification limit of the spectrofluorometric assay. Confirmatory studies using a sensitive radioimmunoassay confirmed no histamine release within the first hour of a thermal injury (baseline 11.6 +/- 1.8 nM vs. post-burn values of 14.8 +/- 1.8 nM, n = 8). CONCLUSIONS: Histamine is not released in human skin during the acute phase of a thermal injury.