Desipramine, the monoamine reuptake inhibitor, acts predominantly on noradrenergic neurones, and via alpha-2 receptors brings about the release of growth hormone in normal healthy subjects. Thirteen patients with a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome, 10 normal controls and eight patients with peptic ulcer disease were each given a challenge test of desipramine 1 mg/kg body weight. Growth hormone release over a 3 h period was monitored. A blunted response was defined as a failure of growth hormone levels to rise at least 5 mU/l above baseline. Of the 13 patients with irritable bowel syndrome 11 showed such a blunting. The results suggest abnormal central alpha-2 receptor functioning in irritable bowel syndrome.