The tissue distribution of mRNA encoding five somatostatin receptor subtypes, SSTR1, SSTR2, SSTR3, SSTR4, and SSTR5, was determined in adult rat tissues by solution hybridization/nuclease protection analysis using sequence-specific cRNA probes. In the central nervous system, SSTR1 and SSTR2 mRNA were expressed widely, with highest levels in hippocampus, hypothalamus, cortex, and amygdala and expression of both isoforms in cerebellum and spinal cord. Expression of SSTR3 was also widespread, occurring in all brain regions examined, with the highest level of expression in the cerebellum. SSTR4 mRNA was detected in most brain regions, with highest levels occurring in the hippocampus, cortex, and olfactory bulb. No detectable levels were found in cerebellum. SSTR5 showed a unique pattern of expression in the central nervous system, being found primarily in the hypothalamus and preoptic area. In peripheral tissues, high levels of SSTR1 and SSTR2 mRNA were found in pituitary and spleen. SSTR1 mRNA was also found in the heart and intestine, SSTR2 was detected in pancreas, and both isoforms were expressed in stomach. Expression of SSTR3 was noted in heart, liver, stomach, intestine, kidney, spleen, and pituitary. The patterns of expression were similar for SSTR4 and SSTR3 mRNA; however, SSTR4 was not expressed in liver. SSTR5 was expressed predominantly in the pituitary, but detectible levels were observed in spleen and intestine. Thus, the SSTR subtype mRNA showed both a tissue-specific and overlapping pattern of expression. Taken together with SSTR-specific signal transduction systems, this probably explains the diverse physiological actions of somatostatin.