The effects of selective histamine receptor analogs were studied in electrically paced rabbit left atria. Atrial tension was increased by histamine (an H1 and H2 agonist), 4-methylhistamine and impromidine (H2 agonists), and 2-pyridylethylamine (PEA) (an H1 agonist). The responses to histamine and impromidine were not altered by propranolol (1 x 10(-7) M) or reserpine pretreatment. However, the responses to 4-methylhistamine and PEA were significantly decreased upon pretreatment with propranolol or reserpine. Promethazine pretreatment (H1 receptor blockade) antagonized the inotropic effects of histamine and PEA but had no effect on the responses to 4-methylhistamine or impromidine. Cimetidine pretreatment (H2 receptor antagonism) competitively blocked the positive inotropic effects of histamine, 4-methylhistamine, and impromidine. These results suggest that the left atrial inotropic response is mediated through H1 and H2 receptor stimulation.