The effects of long term (6-month), high (500-micrograms), once a day administration of octreotide on enterochromaffin-like (ECL) cell proliferation were evaluated in eight patients with hypergastrinemic atrophic gastritis at risk for the development of gastric carcinoids. Fasting gastrin levels were determined during treatment and up to 6 months after the end of treatment. Chromogranin A, hCG alpha, and somatostatin-immunostained cells were morphometrically evaluated in biopsy specimens of corpus mucosa taken before and after treatment. The results showed that gastrin levels significantly decreased from 950 to 238 ng/L (-74.9%; P < 0.01) at the end of treatment, a decrease that persisted 6 months after the end of treatment (450 ng/L; P < 0.05). The volume density of CgA cells (mostly ECL cells) decreased from 3.7% to 2.1% of the epithelial component (-43%; P < 0.014), that of hCG alpha-storing ECL cells decreased by 85% (P < 0.0007), and that of somatostatin-stained cells decreased by 74% (P < 0.04). No clinically significant side-effects were found. It is concluded that octreotide treatment as used in the present study is safe and effective in reducing hypergastrinemia and associated ECL cell changes in patients with atrophic gastritis. The decrease in D cells is consistent with the occurrence of somatostatin receptors and related autocrine regulation in these cells.