To assess the growth-promoting effect of different doses of growth hormone-releasing hormone(1-29)-NH2 (GHRH(1-29)-NH2) in GH deficiency (GHD) of hypothalamic origin, 43 prepubertal children aged between 4.3 and 18.9 years (mean 10.4 +/- 2.9 years) were randomly assigned to three treatment regimens: low-dose GHRH(1-29)-NH2 (LD group; n = 15), high-dose GHRH(1-29)-NH2 (HD group; n = 12) and GH (GH group; n = 16). The LD group received GHRH(1-29)-NH2 at 30 mug/kg/day s.c. in three daily doses, the HD group received 60 mug/kg/day s.c. in three daily doses and the GH group received GH. 0.1 IU/kg/day s.c. once daily. All children were treated for a period of 6 months. Evaluation included anthropometry, bone age, intravenous and subcutaneous GHRH(1-29)-NH2 tests and determination of insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) levels. An increase in height velocity of 2 cm/year or more was observed in all except two children. Height velocity during treatment was lowest in the LD group, but comparable in the HD and GH groups. An increase in height SDS for bone age occurred only in the GH-treated group. GH responses to intravenous GHRH(1-29)-NH2 showed a priming effect of the LD GHRH(1-29)-NH2 treatment, while a decrease in response occurred in the GH-treated group. Following a subcutaneous test dose of one-third of the daily dose of GHRH(1-29)-NH2, GH levels remained unchanged in both the LD and HD groups. There was accumulation of GHRH immunoreactivity over time in the HD group, but there was no correlation between measured GHRH and GH levels. IGF-I levels increased in the HD and GH-treated groups. Antibodies to GHRH were detected in 54% and 58% of children in the LD and HD groups, respectively. None of these variables correlated with changes in height velocity. The results indicate that 6 months of GH and high-dose GHRH(1-29)-NH2 treatment have similar growth-promoting effects.