Growth hormone

Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2010:(195):187-200. doi: 10.1007/978-3-540-79088-4_8.


Human growth hormone (hGH) is a proteohormone secreted by the pituitary gland. It acts through binding to the hGH receptor, inducing either direct effects or initiating the production of insulin-like growth-factor I (IGF-I), the most important mediator of hGH effects. Growth hormone is primarily known to promote longitudinal growth in children and adolescents, but has also various important metabolic functions throughout adult life. Effects of hGH on the adult organism are well established from studies with recombinant growth hormone (rhGH) therapy in growth hormone deficient subjects. In this particular group of patients, replacement of hGH leads to increased lipolysis and lean body mass, decreased fat mass, improvements in VO(2max), and maximal power output. Although extrapolation from these findings to the situation in well trained healthy subjects is impossible, and controlled studies in healthy subjects are scarce, abuse of hGH seems to be popular among athletes trying to enhance physical performance. Detection of the application of rhGH is difficult, especially because the amino acid sequence of rhGH is identical to the major 22,000 Da isoform of hGH normally secreted by the pituitary. Furthermore, some physiological properties of hGH secretion also hindered the development of a doping test: secreted in a pulsatile manner, it has a very short half-life in circulation, which leads to highly variable serum levels. Concentration alone therefore cannot prove the exogenous administration of hGH.Two approaches have independently been developed for the detection of hGH doping: The so-called "marker approach" investigates changes in hGH-dependent parameters like IGF-I or components of bone and collagen metabolism, which are increased after hGH injection. In contrast, the so-called "isoform approach" directly analyses the spectrum of molecular isoforms in circulation: the pituitary gland secretes a spectrum of homo- and heterodimers and - multimers of a variable spectrum of hGH isoforms, whereas rhGH consists of the monomeric 22,000 Da isoform only. This isoform therefore becomes predominant after injection of rhGH. Specific immunoassays with preference for the one or the other isoform allow analysis of the relative abundance of the 22,000 Da isoform. Application of rhGH can be proven when the ratio of this isoform relative to the others is increased above a certain threshold. Because the "marker method" and the "isoform method" have a different window of opportunity for detection, complementary use of both tests could be a way to increase the likelihood of detecting cheating athletes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Body Composition / drug effects
  • Bone Development / drug effects
  • Doping in Sports / methods*
  • Growth / drug effects
  • Heart / drug effects
  • Heart / physiology
  • Human Growth Hormone / analysis*
  • Human Growth Hormone / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Lung / drug effects
  • Lung / physiology
  • Muscle Strength / drug effects
  • Muscle, Skeletal / drug effects
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Recombinant Proteins / analysis
  • Recombinant Proteins / pharmacology


  • Biomarkers
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Human Growth Hormone