The in vitro effects of cortisol and GH on basal and stimulated lipolysis in human adipose tissue were studied using a tissue incubation technique. After preincubation for 3 days in control medium containing insulin, adipose tissue pieces were exposed to cortisol for 3 days. GH was added to the cortisol-containing medium during the last 24 h (day 6). Adipocytes were then isolated, and lipolysis was studied in the absence and presence of isoprenaline, noradrenaline, forskolin, and N-6-monobutyryl-cAMP. Cortisol reduced the basal rate of lipolysis (P < 0.01) and the sensitivity to isoprenaline compared to the control values (P < 0.01). Addition of GH to the cortisol-containing medium increased the basal rate of lipolysis (P < 0.01) and the sensitivity to isoprenaline (P < 0.01) to the control level and increased the maximum isoprenaline-induced lipolytic activity (P < 0.01). Similar effects were obtained in the presence of noradrenaline. Maximum forskolin-induced lipolytic activity was reduced after exposure of the tissue to cortisol (P < 0.05), whereas addition of GH antagonized this effect (P < 0.01). Induction of the maximum lipolytic activity with N-6-monobutyryl-cAMP was not influenced by the preceding hormone exposure. Addition of GH alone during the last 24 h of incubation increased the basal rate of lipolysis (P < 0.05) and resulted in a borderline significant increase in the maximum isoprenaline-induced lipolytic activity (P = 0.055), suggesting that GH induces lipolysis also in the absence of glucocorticoids. Thus, cortisol and GH have opposite effects on the basal lipolytic activity in human adipose tissue in vitro as well as on the sensitivity to catecholamines, GH being the lipolytic and cortisol the antilipolytic agent. The present findings are in agreement with in vivo observations.