The aim of this study was to investigate the involvement of endogenous growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH) in the growth hormone (GH) release during strenuous exercise (EX). Eight healthy male subjects (age: 22.1 +/- 0.8 yr, body mass index: 22.2 +/- 0.9 kg/m 2, .VO 2 max: 52.2 +/- 0.5 ml/min/kg [mean +/- SEM]) were exposed to incremental EX until volitional exhaustion (cycle ergometry), and in random order to a maximally stimulating bolus injection of 100 microg GHRH, or to combined administration of 100 microg GHRH and EX (GHRH+EX). Serial blood samples in the fasted state were taken immediately before the start of each trial, and at appropriate intervals over 2 h. Total GH availability was calculated as area under the response curve (AUC), corrected for differences in baseline values. The results showed that peak serum GH levels to GHRH alone and EX alone were not significantly different: 41.5 +/- 9.0 microg/l and 64.1 +/- 8.1(mean +/- SEM). Peak GH level to GHRH+EX was 156.1 +/- 19.9 microg/l, which was significantly greater than to either stimulus alone (p < 0.02) or additively (105.6 +/- 17.1 microg/l, p < 0.02). AUC's to GHRH alone and EX alone were not significantly different (3242 +/- 839 vs. 2472 +/- 408 microg/l x 120 min). AUC to GHRH+EX (7807 +/- 1221 microg/l x 120 min) was greater than to either stimulus alone (p < 0.02) or additively (5714 +/- 1247 microg/l x 120 min, p < 0.02). This indicates a potentiating (synergistic) effect between GHRH and EX. We postulate that GH responses to strenuous EX are only partially due to maximal GHRH activation. Next to complete inhibition of hypothalamic somatostatin activity, which is achieved by strenuous exercise, activation of endogenous GH-releasing peptides, such as Ghrelin, must be operative.