The presence of histamine H1 receptors on lymphocytes has been indirectly suggested by the various effects of agonists or antagonists on the functionally distinct T lymphocyte subsets. Recently, a new H1 antagonist, 125I-iodobolpyramine, whose structure is similar to mepyramine, has become available for the detection of H1 receptors in guinea pig brain. When using 125I-iodobolpyramine on human T lymphocytes, the presence of a single highly specific H1 binding site was evidenced. The binding of 125I-iodobolpyramine to human T cells was reversible when using 1000-fold excess of the cold H1 antagonist, d-chlorpheniramine. Binding saturation was achieved at 0.60-0.65 nM of 125I-iodobolpyramine, the binding equilibrium was reached in 20-30 min at 27 degrees C. The dissociation constant was KD = 0.41 +/- 0.07 (mean +/- SE) and the number of receptors per T cell was 3407 +/- 592 (mean +/- SE) as deduced from saturation and kinetic curves. In competition experiments using a panel of H1 ligands, the T cell binding sites detected by 125I-iodobolpyramine showed a pharmacological behavior characteristic of histamine H1 receptors. It was of particular interest that 125I-iodobolpyramine binding displayed clearcut stereoselectivity as assessed by the higher affinity of the d-configuration of chlorpheniramine than the l form. Study of purified CD4 and CD8 T cells showed that twice as much H1 histamine receptors were expressed by CD8 T lymphocytes (6615 +/- 1125) as compared to CD4 T cells (3545 +/- 459). These results underline the need for studying the functional properties of such pharmacologically defined T lymphocyte H1 binding sites.