To test the hypothesis that cerebral capillaries, which share the embroyologic and morphologic characteristics of retinal capillaries, might have the same abnormal permeability in diabetic patients, we investigated the growth hormone response to a small amount of peripherally administered dopamine (1.5 microgram/kg.min). Consistent with the known exclusion of systemic dopamine from brain parenchyma, no rise was observed in 12 normal subjects. In 10 of 12 juvenile-onset, insulin-dependent diabetic patients, however, a substantial growth hormone rise occurred (peak value, 19.2 +/- 3.0 ng/ml [mean +/- SE]). Comparision of metabolic and cardiovascular responses to the infusion in both groups did not suggest that higher circulating levels of dopamine had been achieved in the diabetics. Other growth hormone stimuli (apomorphine in decreasing amounts, glucagon, and graded physical exercise) failed to indicate that hypothalamic hypersensitivity could account for the consistent rise. We postulate that an abnormal permeability of the blood-brain barrier in the diabetic patients permitted exposure of the hypothalamic structures regulating growth hormone secretion to a greater fraction of the infused dopamine.