Stunted growth is a serious problem for children with chronic renal failure (CRF) despite normal endogenous growth hormone secretion and normal or elevated plasma concentrations of insulin-like growth factors (IGF) I and II. Biosynthetic growth hormone (GH) was given to 20 prepubertal children (eleven boys, nine girls; mean age 9.5 years, range 4-16) with CRF and severe growth retardation in a placebo-controlled, double-blind, cross-over trial. 6 months of subcutaneous injection of GH (4 IU/m2 per day) was either preceded or followed by 6 months of placebo injection. The patients had a full examination every 3 months. Sixteen children completed the study. Height velocity improved significantly with GH therapy (p less than 0.0001) and placebo (p less than 0.04), but the GH-induced height-velocity increase exceeded that of placebo by 2.9 cm per 6 months. There was a positive relationship between prestudy height velocity and height-velocity increase. Bone maturation was not affected. GH caused a significant increase in IGF-I and a moderate increase in IGF-II plasma concentrations. The pretreatment elevation of IGF-binding protein-1 decreased by almost 50% during GH therapy, while IGF-binding protein-3 increased significantly in concentration, although this increase was significantly smaller than the GH-induced increase in IGF-I. Fructosamine, lipid, and parathyroid concentrations remained constant. Renal function deterioration did not accelerate. Impressive height-velocity increase can be achieved with GH therapy in children with CRF and growth retardation without changes in renal function. Bone maturation appears unaffected suggesting improved final height. Treatment is best started before growth retardation becomes considerable.