We have investigated the variations in growth hormone (GH) and somatostatin (SOM) mRNAs in adult, middle-aged and aging rats of both sexes using quantitative in situ hybridization. cDNA probes complementary to GH mRNA and SOM mRNA were used on fixed pituitary and hypothalamic sections, respectively. A clear sexual dimorphism in GH gene expression was observed in all age groups examined, mRNA levels always being higher in males than in females. In male rats, GH mRNA levels reached a maximum at 7 months of age and then dramatically decreased in middle-aged and aging animals. In female animals, the highest expression of GH was observed at 9 months of age followed by a gradual and constant decline during the aging period. SOM mRNA levels in the periventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus also showed a sexual dimorphism in adult rats, being higher in males than females. A gradual decline in SOM mRNA was observed in middle-aged and aging rats of both sexes. These results suggest that middle age and aging are critical periods for the control of GH and SOM gene expression and that the decrease in GH mRNA levels observed during aging is probably not a consequence of an increase of SOM activity.