1. The present study was designed to assess the effect of the tetradecapeptide somatostatin on the GABA(A) receptor complex in the rat hypothalamus. 2. GABA(A) receptors were labelled with [35S]-tert-butylbicyclophosphorothionate (TBPS), which binds in or near the chloride channel, and binding as assessed by in vitro quantitative autoradiography using a computer-assisted image analysis system. 3. Somatostatin inhibited the binding of [35S]-TBPS to the convulsant site of the hypothalamic GABA(A) receptor complex of rat slide-mounted hypothalamic structures in a concentration-dependent manner with an affinity in the micromolar range (10(-6) to 3 x 10(-6) mol/L). Somatostatin appeared to mimic the effects of the neurosteroid 5alpha-pregnane-3alpha ol-one (5alpha3alphaP), GABA and picrotoxin on [35S]-TBPS binding in the rat hypothalamus in all structures examined. Furthermore, GABA or muscimol (a GABA(A) receptor agonist), when added to the incubation medium, enhanced the capacity of somatostatin to inhibit [35S]-TBPS binding, with an IC50 of 10(-7) mol/L. However, incubation with bicuculline (a GABA(A) receptor antagonist) led to the abolition of the inhibitory effect of somatostatin on [35S]-TBPS specific binding in rat hypothalamus. 4. The present results demonstrate the presence of a modulatory effect of somatostatin on the GABA(A) receptor complex in rat hypothalamic structures. Furthermore, the data suggest that somatostatin allosterically modifies [35S]-TBPS binding through a mechanism similar to that of GABA. Taken together, these results provide evidence for the presence of somatostatin- GABA interactions in rat hypothalamus.