Somatostatins are a diverse family of peptides that influence various aspects of animal growth, development, and metabolism. Recent work in our laboratory has shown that somatostatins stimulate hepatic lipolysis in rainbow trout. In this study we characterized somatostatin-binding sites in trout hepatic membrane preparations. We also examined changes in binding characteristics brought about by food deprivation. Binding of [Tyr11]-somatostatin-14 (SS-14) was saturable, reversible, and time- and temperature-dependent. Under optimal conditions, [Tyr11]-SS-14 specific binding averaged 5.7 ± 0.3%. While SS-14 and SS-28 (an N-terminally extended form of SS-14 and derived from the same gene as SS-14) displaced [Tyr11]-SS-14 specific binding (ED50 values of approximately 50 nM and 100 nM respectively), salmon SS-25 (containing [Tyr7,Gly10]-SS-14 at its C terminus and presumably derived from a gene different from that giving rise to SS-14/SS-28), except at pharmacological concentrations, did not. Significant specific binding was also detected in brain, esophagus, stomach, upper and lower intestine, pancreas, and adipose tissue. Scatchard analysis suggested the existence of two classes of hepatic somatostatin-binding sites: a high-affinity site with a K(d) of 23 nM and B(max) of 1.4 pmol/mg protein and a low-affinity site with a K(d) of 379 nM and B(max) of 4.9 pmol/mg protein. Fasting resulted in reduced growth and elevated plasma levels of SS-14 compared with fed animals. SS-14 binding capacity of the high-affinity class in liver membranes isolated from fasted fish increased by 120% over that from fed counterparts. No difference in K(d) the high-affinity binding class or in either K(d) or B(max) of the low-affinity class was noted between fasted and fed animals. These data support the role of the liver as a target of somatostatin and suggest that fasting enhances hepatic sensitivity to SS-14 binding.