GH/GHRH axis in HIV lipodystrophy

Pituitary. 2009;12(2):143-52. doi: 10.1007/s11102-008-0092-8.


Approximately half of patients with HIV-infection develop abnormal body fat distribution, characterized by increased abdominal, breast, and dorsocervical adiposity and decreased fat in the limbs and face in association with antiretroviral therapy. Changes in fat distribution are associated with dyslipidemia, insulin resistance, and increased cardiovascular risk in patients with HIV lipodystrophy. Growth hormone secretion is reduced and responses to standardized stimulation testing altered, suggesting relative growth hormone deficiency in this population. Growth hormone secretion is characterized by normal pulse frequency, but decreased pulse amplitude, pulse width, and trough GH levels compared to weight matched, non-HIV-infected patients. Abnormalities in GH secretion are strongly associated with body composition and metabolic abnormalities in patients with HIV lipodystrophy, particularly with increased visceral fat and elevated free fatty acids. Increased somatostatin tone and decreased ghrelin concentrations may also contribute to reduced GH levels. Administration of exogenous GH or growth hormone releasing hormone (GHRH) to normalize growth hormone concentrations is effective to reduce visceral fat and improve lipid parameters in HIV-infected patients. Treatment with supraphysiologic GH is limited by side effects and exacerbation of insulin resistance, whereas administration of physiologic doses of GH demonstrates more modest treatment effects but fewer adverse effects. Initial studies of GHRH also show significant reductions in visceral adipose tissue (VAT) with potentially fewer adverse effects. GHRH may be particularly useful to normalize GH dynamics in patients with HIV lipodystrophy by increasing endogenous GH pulse height, GH pulse width, and trough GH levels, while preserving the negative feedback of IGF-I on pituitary GH secretion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Retroviral Agents / adverse effects
  • Anti-Retroviral Agents / therapeutic use
  • Body Composition / physiology
  • Body Fat Distribution
  • Female
  • Growth Hormone / physiology*
  • Growth Hormone / therapeutic use
  • Growth Hormone-Releasing Hormone / physiology*
  • Growth Hormone-Releasing Hormone / therapeutic use
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy
  • HIV-Associated Lipodystrophy Syndrome / chemically induced
  • HIV-Associated Lipodystrophy Syndrome / drug therapy
  • HIV-Associated Lipodystrophy Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Male


  • Anti-Retroviral Agents
  • Growth Hormone
  • Growth Hormone-Releasing Hormone