Although neuropeptides have been demonstrated to be hippocampal neuromodulators in laboratory animals, their role in human hippocampal physiology or pathophysiology remains to be defined. The concentrations of somatostatin, cholecystokinin octapeptide, vasoactive intestinal polypeptide, and dynorphin A 1-17 were determined in hippocampal tissue resected from patients with cryptogenic temporal lobe epilepsy, a common seizure disorder originating in or near the hippocampus. Control tissue was obtained from cadavera or epilepsy patients in whom the hippocampus was removed during the resection of temporal lobe tumors. Peptide determinations were performed on extracts of punch biopsy specimens taken from six different hippocampal regions. A significant decrease in immunoreactive somatostatin concentration was identified in the dentate gyrus and in region cornu ammonis 4 of cryptogenic temporal lobe epilepsy specimens. No significant changes were present in any other hippocampal region or in the levels of other peptides. In situ hybridization studies performed on cryostat sections from similar patients confirmed a marked loss of neurons expressing the somatostatin gene, which was restricted to the dentate hilus. The density of specific 125I-somatostatin binding to cryostat sections, as determined by semiquantitative in vitro autoradiography, was significantly increased in the dentate gyrus of the cryptogenic epilepsy patients, compared with tumor control specimens. We conclude that a loss of somatostatin-producing interneurons with an upregulation of dentate somatostatin receptors is a specific and characteristic element in the pathophysiology of human crytogenic temporal lobe epilepsy.