Somatostatin is a widely distributed inhibitory peptide with growth-inhibitory effects in several human tumours, including breast cancer, raising the possibility that it may have therapeutic potential. The effects of somatostatin are mediated via a family of cell-surface receptors that differ in their tissue distribution, pharmacological properties and intracellular response mediators, suggesting that they mediate different functions of the peptide. We have analysed the expression of somatostatin receptor subtype (SSTR1-5) mRNA in normal and malignant breast tissue. Receptor expression was analysed by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) using receptor subtype-specific primers and by in situ hybridization (ISH) with riboprobes synthesized by in vitro transcription of cloned PCR products. A total of 51 breast carcinomas, 36 samples of matched normal tissue, two axillary node metastases and eight normal/benign breast tissue samples were analysed. SSTR2 expression was ubiquitous in both normal and malignant breast tissue. Expression of SSTR5 was detected in approximately one-third of tumour and normal tissue, but fewer than 13% of all tissues expressed SSTR1, 3 and 4. These data suggest that SSTR2 gene expression is ubiquitous in breast cancer. Although this is unlikely to have diagnostic or prognostic significance, SSTR2-specific somatostatin analogues may have therapeutic potential in breast cancer.