Somatostatin acts as an inhibitory peptide of various secretory and proliferative responses. Its effects are mediated by a family of G-protein-coupled receptors (sst1-5) that can couple to diverse signal transduction pathways such as inhibition of adenylate cyclase and guanylate cyclase, modulation of ionic conductance channels, and protein dephosphorylation. The five receptors bind the natural peptide with high affinity but only sst2, sst5 and sst3 bind the short synthetic analogues. Somatostatin negatively regulates the growth of various normal and tumour cells. This effect is mediated indirectly through inhibition of secretion of growth-promoting factors, angiogenesis and modulation of the immune system. Somatostatin can also act directly through sst receptors present on target cells. The five receptors are expressed in various normal and tumour cells, the expression of each receptor being receptor subtype and cell type specific. According to the receptor subtypes, distinct signal transduction pathways are involved in the antiproliferative action of somatostatin. Sst1, 4 and 5 modulate the MAP kinase pathway and induce G1 cell cycle arrest. Sst3 and sst2 promote apoptosis by p53-dependent and -independent mechanisms, respectively.