Somatostatin, a tetradecapeptide initially isolated from the ovine hypothalamus, is widely distributed throughout the gastrointestinal tract where it may act as a hormone, local chemical messenger, or neurotransmitter to elicit many physiological actions. Release of somatostatin from D cells in the gut is regulated by mechanisms that are both dependent on and independent of cAMP. In most cases somatostatin acts to inhibit the function of its target cells. It performs this action in part via pertussis-toxin-sensitive inhibitory guanine nucleotide-binding proteins that regulate adenylate cyclase activity. Other mechanisms may involve sites of action distal to intracellular second messenger systems.