The effect of one of the new human pancreatic growth hormone releasing factors (hpGRFs) was assessed in children or young adults with different forms of growth retardation or endocrine-metabolic diseases. Intravenously administered synthetic hpGRF-40 (1 microgram/kg) induced a clear-cut and prompt rise in plasma growth hormone (GH) levels in 8 normal prepubertal children and a definite GH rise in 11 out of 14 children with isolated GH deficiency (IGHD) and one child with the Silver-Russel syndrome. In two out of three subjects with craniopharyngioma hpGRF-40 did not induce any plasma GH increase. In seven out of ten children with constitutional growth delay (CGD), hpGRF-40 induced a biphasic GH response, with a prompt small GH increment followed by a second, more consistent rise. Both in children with IGHD and with CGD the rise in plasma GH following hpGRF-40 was markedly lower than in controls. In children with CGD the GH response to hpGRF-40 was defective, despite the fact that in most of them the GH response to standard pharmacological stimuli was normal according to generally accepted criteria. hpGRF induced a small but sustained plasma GH rise in four hypothyroid subjects, while in three out of four children with idiopathic obesity the GH response to hpGRF was strikingly reduced. These data demonstrate that hpGRF is a potent stimulus of GH release in normal prepubertal children and a physiological means of investigating GH function in diseases associated with growth impairment.