Enteric neuroimmune interactions in gastrointestinal hypersensitivity responses involve antigen detection by mast cells, mast cell degranulation, release of chemical mediators, and modulatory actions of the mediators on the enteric nervous system (ENS). Electrophysiological methods were used to investigate electrical and synaptic behavior of neurons in the stomach and small intestine during exposure to beta-lactoglobulin in guinea pigs sensitized to cow's milk. Application of beta-lactoglobulin to sensitized preparations depolarized the membrane potential and increased neuronal excitability in small intestinal neurons but not in gastric neurons. Effects on membrane potential and excitability in the small intestine were suppressed by the mast cell stabilizing drug ketotifen, the histamine H(2) receptor antagonist cimetidine, the cyclooxygenase inhibitor piroxicam, and the 5-lipoxygenase inhibitor caffeic acid. Unlike small intestinal ganglion cells, gastric myenteric neurons did not respond to histamine applied exogenously. Antigenic exposure suppressed noradrenergic inhibitory neurotransmission in the small intestinal submucosal plexus. The histamine H(3) receptor antagonist thioperamide and piroxicam, but not caffeic acid, prevented the allergic suppression of noradrenergic inhibitory neurotransmission. Antigenic stimulation of neuronal excitability and suppression of synaptic transmission occurred only in milk-sensitized animals. Results suggest that signaling between mast cells and the ENS underlies intestinal, but not gastric, anaphylactic responses associated with food allergies. Histamine, prostaglandins, and leukotrienes are paracrine signals in the communication pathway from mast cells to the small intestinal ENS.