Administration of cysteamine (mercaptoethylamine) induces in rats severe perforating duodenal ulcers. Because the ulcerogenic properties of cysteamine are markedly reduced by treatment with somatostatin, we considered the possibility that cysteamine-induced duodenal ulcer might be mediated by depletion of tissue somatostatin, and thereby of its paracrine influences on gastrin and gastric acid secretion. To test this hypothesis, we measured the concentration of immunoreactive somatostatin (IR-somatostatin) in stomach and duodenal mucosa at intervals after administration of a single ulcerogenic dose (30 mg/kg by stomach tube). IR-somatostatin in these tissues fell rapidly to reach a minimum at 4 h (stomach 31%, duodenum 60% of control respectively). IR-somatostatin in hypothalamus and pancreas decreased gradually to a minimum at 7 h. Another duodenal ulcerogen, propionitrile (10 mg/100 g bw, s.c.) which is more toxic than cysteamine, and several stressful procedures including ether anesthesia, restraint and s.c. formalin did not lower stomach or duodenal IR-somatostatin. Gut, pancreas and hypothalamic VIP levels were not influenced by cysteamine. These findings suggest that cysteamine is a relatively specific depletor of tissue somatostatin. Because blood levels of somatostatin fell, and only trivial amounts of the peptide were found in the stomach lumen after cysteamine administration, it appears likely that this agent acts at the cellular level to cause breakdown of preformed somatostatin and/or to acutely reduce its synthesis.