The effect of recombinant DNA human growth hormone (rhGH) treatment in adults with growth hormone (GH) deficiency was studied in 24 patients in a double-blind placebo-controlled trial. The dose was 0.07 U/kg body wt daily. After 6 mo of treatment, significant increases were noted in the rhGH group for total cross-sectional area of thigh muscle (+11.2 +/- 3.1 vs. -0.5 +/- 3.0 cm2; P = 0.015 vs. placebo) and quadriceps muscle (+4.1 +/- 0.8 vs. +0.4 +/- 1.2 cm2; P = 0.031) measured by computerized tomography. Strong correlations were noted between lean body mass (measured as total body potassium) and total thigh muscle area in normal and GH-deficient adults both before and after rhGH treatment. Strength of hip flexors (+1.25 +/- 0.27 vs. +0.25 +/- 0.12 z-scores; P = 0.004) and limb girdle muscles increased (P = 0.02) in the rhGH group. We conclude that 1) rhGH increases lean tissue and skeletal muscle mass in adults with human GH deficiency, 2) this suggests a role for GH in the regulation of body composition of adult humans, 3) the increase in strength of limb girdle muscles after rhGH treatment suggests that adults with GH deficiency may have a proximal myopathy, and 4) the failure to demonstrate an increase in strength in other muscle groups may require the study of larger numbers of patients.