Somatostatin (SRIF) exerts its diverse biological effects through a family of membrane receptors. In addition to inhibiting GH secretion, SRIF has antiproliferative effects and has been used clinically in the treatment of pituitary tumors. SRIF receptor (SSTR) expression has recently been identified in pituitary adenomas, and it is unknown whether differential expression of SSTR subtypes predicts clinical responses to SRIF analogs. We therefore determined which SSTR subtype messenger RNAs (mRNAs) are expressed in pituitary adenoma phenotypes and in normal human pituitary tissue using reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction and tested whether expression of specific SSTR subtype mRNA is necessary for SRIF inhibition of GH secretion in human somatotroph adenomas in vitro. Expression of SSTR subtypes 1, 2, and 5 mRNA was identified in all pituitary adenoma types and normal pituitary tissue. In contrast, SSTR3 mRNA was detected in only one somatotroph adenoma as well as in control insulinoma tissue, a tissue known to express SSTR3 mRNA, and was not detected in normal pituitary tissue. SSTR4 mRNA was not detected in any human pituitary tissue. To determine whether specific SSTR subtype mRNA expression is required for SRIF inhibition of GH secretion, five somatotroph adenomas were treated with 10(-7) mol/L SRIF in vitro, and significant inhibition of GH release occurred in all adenomas. All five tumors expressed SSTR2 mRNA and SSTR5 mRNA, and three expressed SSTR1 mRNA. The absence of SSTR1 mRNA expression did not affect the ability of SRIF to suppress GH secretion. We conclude that: 1) human pituitary adenomas and normal pituitary express multiple SSTR gene transcripts; 2) SSTR5 mRNA, which has not been reported in other human endocrine tumor types, is expressed in neoplastic and normal pituitary tissue; and 3) SSTR2 mRNA, SSTR5 mRNA, and variable SSTR1 mRNA are expressed in GH-secreting tumors, which are responsive to SRIF in vitro. Further understanding of SSTR gene expression in pituitary adenomas will facilitate our understanding of the pathogenetic mechanisms of tumorigenesis and may provide a rationale for the use of specific SRIF analogs for clinical application.