Human medullary thyroid carcinomas from 19 patients were analyzed for their content in somatostatin (SRIF) receptors using receptor autoradiography with a SRIF-28 analogue and the SRIF octapeptide [Tyr3]-SMS 201-995 as iodinated radioligands. Four out of 19 cases were SRIF receptor positive with the SRIF octapeptide radioligand. These cases as well as four additional tumors were also positive with the SRIF-28 radioligand 125I-[Leu8, D-Trp22, Tyr25]-SRIF-28. High affinity binding sites pharmacologically specific for bioactive SRIF analogues, specifically located on tumor tissue, were identified. In some cases the SRIF receptors were distributed in a non-homogeneous pattern, with labelling occurring preferentially in highly differentiated tumor regions. Numerous cases were shown to have a high tumoral SRIF content measured by radioimmunoassay or immunohistochemical technique. However, there was no correlation between SRIF receptor status and tumor levels of endogenous SRIF. No correlation was seen between the clinical outcome or the survival of the patients and their tumoral SRIF receptor content. Whereas some medullary thyroid carcinomas seem to be a target for SRIF, the SRIF function in these tumors remains unclear. SRIF receptors in a group of medullary thyroid carcinomas may be useful morphological marker of these tumors and of potential interest for their in vivo localization.