Somatostatin (SST), a regulatory peptide, is produced by neuroendocrine, inflammatory, and immune cells in response to ions, nutrients, neuropeptides, neurotransmitters, thyroid and steroid hormones, growth factors, and cytokines. The peptide is released in large amounts from storage pools of secretory cells, or in small amounts from activated immune and inflammatory cells, and acts as an endogenous inhibitory regulator of the secretory and proliferative responses of target cells that are widely distributed in the brain and periphery. These actions are mediated by a family of seven transmembrane (TM) domain G-protein-coupled receptors that comprise five distinct subtypes (termed SSTR1-5) that are endoded by separate genes segregated on different chromosomes. The five receptor subtypes bind the natural SST peptides, SST-14 and SST-28, with low nanomolar affinity. Short synthetic octapeptide and hexapeptide analogs bind well to only three of the subtypes, 2, 3, and 5. Selective nonpeptide agonists with nanomolar affinity have been developed for four of the subtypes (SSTR1, 2, 3, and 4) and putative peptide antagonists for SSTR2 and SSTR5 have been identified. The ligand binding domain for SST ligands is made up of residues in TMs III-VII with a potential contribution by the second extracellular loop. SSTRs are widely expressed in many tissues, frequently as multiple subtypes that coexist in the same cell. The five receptors share common signaling pathways such as the inhibition of adenylyl cyclase, activation of phosphotyrosine phosphatase (PTP), and modulation of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) through G-protein-dependent mechanisms. Some of the subtypes are also coupled to inward rectifying K(+) channels (SSTR2, 3, 4, 5), to voltage-dependent Ca(2+) channels (SSTR1, 2), a Na(+)/H(+) exchanger (SSTR1), AMPA/kainate glutamate channels (SSTR1, 2), phospholipase C (SSTR2, 5), and phospholipase A(2) (SSTR4). SSTRs block cell secretion by inhibiting intracellular cAMP and Ca(2+) and by a receptor-linked distal effect on exocytosis. Four of the receptors (SSTR1, 2, 4, and 5) induce cell cycle arrest via PTP-dependent modulation of MAPK, associated with induction of the retinoblastoma tumor suppressor protein and p21. In contrast, SSTR3 uniquely triggers PTP-dependent apoptosis accompanied by activation of p53 and the pro-apoptotic protein Bax. SSTR1, 2, 3, and 5 display acute desensitization of adenylyl cyclase coupling. Four of the subtypes (SSTR2, 3, 4, and 5) undergo rapid agonist-dependent endocytosis. SSTR1 fails to be internalized but is instead upregulated at the membrane in response to continued agonist exposure. Among the wide spectrum of SST effects, several biological responses have been identified that display absolute or relative subtype selectivity. These include GH secretion (SSTR2 and 5), insulin secretion (SSTR5), glucagon secretion (SSTR2), and immune responses (SSTR2). Copyright 1999 Academic Press.