Nutrition during the perinatal period programs body growth. Growth hormone (GH) secretion from the pituitary regulates body growth and is controlled by Growth Hormone Releasing Hormone (GHRH) neurons located in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus. We observed that dietary restriction during the early postnatal period (i.e. lactation) in mice influences postnatal growth by permanently altering the development of the somatotropic axis in the pituitary gland. This alteration may be due to a lack of GHRH signaling during this critical developmental period. Indeed, underfed pups showed decreased insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) plasma levels, which are associated with lower innervation of the median eminence by GHRH axons at 10 days of age relative to normally fed pups. IGF-I preferentially stimulated axon elongation of GHRH neurons in in vitro arcuate explant cultures from 7 day-old normally fed pups. This IGF-I stimulating effect was selective since other arcuate neurons visualized concomitantly by neurofilament labeling, or AgRP immunochemistry, did not significantly respond to IGF-I stimulation. Moreover, GHRH neurons in explants from age-matched underfed pups lost the capacity to respond to IGF-I stimulation. Molecular analyses indicated that nutritional restriction was associated with impaired activation of AKT. These results highlight a role for IGF-I in axon elongation that appears to be cell selective and participates in the complex cellular mechanisms that link underfeeding during the early postnatal period with programming of the growth trajectory.