Somatostatin (SST) is one of the major peptide transmitters in the mammalian central nervous system and also seems to exert specific functions during brain development. In contrast to ligand binding experiments, by which two pharmacologically different binding sites were characterized, molecular cloning techniques have led to the identification of at least five different receptor subtypes (SSTR1–5), which according to RNA blot analyses seem to be differentially distributed and regulated in the developing brain. In order to provide more precise data on the distribution of SSTR1 during ontogenesis, we have performed an in situ hybridization analysis, using a 35S-labelled RNA probe, in the developing rat cortex between embryonic day (E)12 and adulthood. Within the cortical plate, expression of SSTR1 gene was first detected in parallel with the establishment of the deep laminae V/VI at E16, thereby following the characteristic morphogenetic gradients of cortical plate construction. Thus, with the subsequent addition of cells along the radial dimension, e.g. the deposition of the supragranular neurons beyond E18, the hybridization signal spreads as an uniform homogenous band through the entire cortical plate, whereby silver grains reach their peak density around birth. Similar developmental gradients were observed along the lateromedial and frontooccipital dimension, whereby SSTR1 transcripts were detected near the frontal pole and the lateral cortical areas roughly 2 days before they appeared in the occipital and medial cortical anlage, respectively. From the initially homogenous distribution, two distinct SSTR1 mRNA-positive bands coextensive with laminae V/VI and II/IH, respectively, and sparing lamina IV evolved during the first postnatal week, the grain density of which decreased during further postnatal development. Within the hippocampal formation, SSTR1 transcripts were initially observed at E18 in the subicular complex, and after birth also extending into the neighboring CA1 region. During the 1st and 2nd postnatal week, silver grains were observed over the pyramidal cell layer of CA2 and CA3 and as a faint supragranular band in the dentate gyrus. Similar to the isocortex, grain density decreased thereafter. Hypothetically, the pronounced temporospatial regulation of SSTR1 gene expression during brain development can be correlated with (1) the establishment and eventual reduction of transient cortical SSTergic neuron populations described for late pregnancy and early postnatal development and (2) a receptor subtype exchange during maturation as evidenced by the late (from postnatal day 7 onward) appearance of e.g. SSTR3.

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