IGF-I and IGF-II (IGFs) form higher molecular weight complexes with specific binding proteins (IGFBP-1 to -6). These complexes are referred to as binary complexes consisting of IGF-I or IGF-II and one IGFBP, or as ternary complexes each consisting of either of IGF-I or IGF-II, IGFBP-3 or -5, and an acid-labile subunit known as ALS. Ternary complex formation restricts the IGFs to the circulation and prolongs their half-life. Recently, the development of an animal model for ALS deficiency (the ALS-KO mouse) and the identification of a patient with an inactivating mutation in the IGFALS gene have provided the opportunity to assess the physiological role of this protein in the circulating IGF system. ALS deficiency has no effect on fetal growth in both the ALS-KO mice and the ALS-deficient patients. A modest reduction in post-natal growth in the null ALS mice and in the ALS-deficient patients was observed. The plasma concentrations of IGF-I and IGFBP-3 were markedly reduced both in ALS-KO mice and in the ALS-deficient patients. Basal GH levels remained normal in the ALS-KO mice and moderately increased in the ALS-deficient patients. Insulin-resistance was present in the ALS-deficient patients but not in the ALS-KO mice. Reduced bone mineral density (BMD) was present in mice and human ALS deficiency. Phenotypic features of complete ALS deficiency, that are very similar in mouse and human, include: a) the inability to form ternary complex, b) the small growth impairment in spite of the marked reduction in circulating IGF-I, and c) the reduction in BMD. On the other hand, insulin resistance and pubertal delay were observed only in human ALS deficiency. These findings underlie the important physiological role of ALS in the maintenance of the circulating IGF-I reservoir. Both models will be useful in identifying the respective roles of plasma and locally derived IGF-I in regulating metabolism and growth of specific tissues.