In rat CA1 hippocampal pyramidal neurons (HPNs), somatostatin (SST) has inhibitory postsynaptic actions, including hyperpolarization of the membrane at rest and augmentation of the K+ M-current. However, the effects of SST on synaptic transmission in this brain region have not been well-characterized. Therefore we used intracellular voltage-clamp recordings in rat hippocampal slices to assess the effects of SST on pharmacologically isolated synaptic currents in HPNs. SST depressed both (R, S)-alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methylisoxazole-4-propionic acid (AMPA)/kainate and N-methyl--aspartate (NMDA) receptor-mediated excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) in a reversible manner, with an apparent IC50 of 22 nM and a maximal effect at 100 nM. In contrast, SST at concentrations up to 5 microM had no direct effects on either gamma-aminobutyric acid-A (GABAA) or GABAB receptor-mediated inhibitory postsynaptic currents (IPSCs). The depression of EPSCs by SST was especially robust during hyperexcited states when polysynaptic EPSCs were present, suggesting that this peptide could play a compensatory role during seizurelike activity. SST effects were greatly attenuated by the alkylating agent N-ethylmaleimide, thus implicating a transduction mechanism involving the Gi/Go family of G-proteins. Use of 2 M Cs+ in the recording electrode blocked the postsynaptic modulation of K+ currents by SST, but did not alter the effects of SST on EPSCs, indicating that postsynaptic K+ currents are not involved in this action of SST. However, 2 mM external Ba2+ blocked the effect of SST on EPSCs, suggesting that presynaptic K+ channels or other presynaptic mechanisms may be involved. These findings and previous results from our laboratory show that SST has multiple inhibitory effects in hippocampus.