A series of experiments using isolated rat hepatocytes was carried out to establish rat liver cells in suspension as a physiological model for examining GH responses, and to determine whether acute recombinant bovine GH (rbGH) treatment of rat liver cells increased glucose output and/or suppressed fatty acid synthesis from lactate. Rat liver cells were isolated by collagenase perfusion and incubated in short-term (less than 60 min) suspension. The amount of insulin, glucagon or vasopressin required to elicit a half-maximal response was within the physiological range of the circulating hormone. When hepatocytes from normal rats were acutely (less than 60 min) treated with 0, 0.1, 10, 100 or 1000 nmol rbGH/l, rates of hepatocyte glucose output and fatty acid synthesis were unaltered. In addition, acute rbGH treatment (1000 nmol/l) did not alter hepatocyte responsiveness to insulin or vasopressin. However, acute rbGH treatment of hepatocytes isolated from hypophysectomized rats significantly (P less than 0.05) increased the rate of glucose output twofold and moderately (P less than 0.10) enhanced fatty acid synthesis. The accelerated rate of glucose production was not accompanied by an increase in the amount of glycogen phosphorylase-a. The observations with liver cells from hypophysectomized rats are not consistent with a GH receptor-transducing mechanism which is like that for glucagon (adenylate cyclase-linked) or insulin (tyrosine kinase-linked).