The usefulness of measurements of IGF-I or IGF-binding protein-3 (IGFBP-3) in the clinical management of growth disorders is dependent on the extent of physiologic variation in their concentrations. Our purpose was therefore to investigate the longitudinal intraindividual variation in serum concentration of IGF-I and IGFBP-3 in healthy prepubertal children. Monthly serum samples and auxologic measurements were taken over a period of 1 y from 65 prepubertal children (38 boys, 27 girls; mean age 9.1 y, range 7.8-10.8). Concentrations of IGF-I and IGFBP-3 were measured by RIA. The mean (+/-SD) serum concentration of IGF-I in the children was 165 +/- 42.0 microg/L, with a mean coefficient of variation (CV) of 13.9% around the annual mean serum concentration for each child. The corresponding mean concentration of IGFBP-3 was 3273 +/- 604.5 microg/L, and the mean CV for each child was 9.7%. These monthly longitudinal variations in IGF-I and IGFBP-3 were parallel to changes in longitudinal growth. Short-term changes (1 mo) in IGF-I were positively correlated with changes in weight (r(s) = 0.42, p < 0.0005) and body mass index (r(s) = 0.45, p < 0.0005), and negatively correlated with minor intercurrent illnesses (-0.32; p < 0.05). Seasonal fluctuations also occurred, with short term changes in IGF-I (1 mo) and IGFBP-3 (3 mo), increasing with increasing outdoor temperatures (r(s) = 0.30, p < 0.05 and r(s) = 0.39, p < 0.005, respectively). We conclude, that there are significant changes in both IGF-I and IGFBP-3 that occur in association with growth, and that IGF-I is more sensitive than IGFBP-3 to short-term changes in weight, body mass index, and intercurrent illnesses. Physiologic short-term changes must therefore be taken into consideration when using serum levels of IGF-I or IGFBP-3 in the evaluation of the short or slowly growing child.