Although the peptide somatostatin (SST) has been speculated to function in temporal lobe epilepsy, its exact role is unclear, as in vivo studies have suggested both pro- and anticonvulsant properties. We have shown previously that SST has multiple inhibitory cellular actions in the CA1 region of the hippocampus, suggesting that in this region SST should have antiepileptic actions. To directly assess the effect of SST on epileptiform activity, we studied two in vitro models of epilepsy in the rat hippocampal slice preparation using extracellular and intracellular recording techniques. In one, GABA-mediated neurotransmission was inhibited by superfusion of the GABAA receptor antagonist bicuculline. In the second, we superfused Mg2+-free artificial cerebrospinal fluid to remove the Mg2+ block of the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) subtype of glutamate receptor. We show here that SST markedly reduces the intensity of evoked epileptiform afterdischarges and the frequency of spontaneous bursts in both CA1 and CA3. SST appears to act additively in the two regions to suppress the transmission of epileptiform events through the hippocampus. We further examined SST's actions in CA3 and found that SST dramatically reduced the frequency of paroxysmal depolarizing shifts (PDSs) recorded intracellularly in current clamp, as well as increasing the threshold for evoking "giant" excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs), large polysynaptically mediated EPSCs that are the voltage-clamp correlate of PDSs. We also examined the actions of SST on pharmacologically isolated EPSCs generated at both mossy fiber (MF) and associational/commissural (A/C) synapses. SST appears to act specifically to reduce recurrent excitation between CA3 neurons because it depresses A/C- but not MF-evoked EPSCs. SST also increased paired-pulse facilitation of A/C EPSCs, suggesting a presynaptic site of action. Reciprocal activation of CA3 neurons through A/C fibers is critical for generation of epileptiform activity in hippocampus. Thus SST reduces feedforward excitation in rat hippocampus, acting to "brake" hyperexcitation. This is a function unique from that described for other hippocampal neuropeptides, which affect more standard neurotransmission. Our results suggest that SST receptors could be a unique, selective clinical target for treatment of limbic seizures.