To determine how arginine (Arg) stimulates GH secretion, we investigated its interaction with GHRH in vivo and in vitro. Six normal men were studied on four occasions: 1) Arg-TRH, 30 g arginine were administered in 500 mL saline in 30 min, followed by an injection of 200 micrograms TRH; 2) GHRH-Arg-TRH, 100 micrograms GHRH-(1-44) were given iv as a bolus immediately before the Arg infusion, followed by 200 micrograms TRH, iv; 3) GHRH test, 100 micrograms GHRH were given as an iv bolus; and 4) TRH test, 200 micrograms TRH were given iv as a bolus dose. Blood samples were collected at 15-min intervals for 30 min before and 120 min after the start of each infusion. Anterior pituitary cells from rats were coincubated with Arg (3, 6, 15, 30, and 60 mg/mL) and GHRH (0.05, 1, 5, and 10 nmol/L) for a period of 3 h. Rat GH was measured in the medium. After Arg-TRH the mean serum GH concentration increased significantly from 0.6 to 23.3 +/- 7.3 (+/- SE) micrograms/L at 60 min. TRH increased serum TSH and PRL significantly (maximum TSH, 11.1 +/- 1.8 mU/L; maximum PRL, 74.6 +/- 8.4 micrograms/L). After GHRH-Arg-TRH, the maximal serum GH level was significantly higher (72.7 +/- 13.4 micrograms/L) than that after Arg-TRH alone, whereas serum TSH and PRL increased to comparable levels (TSH, 10.2 +/- 3.0 mU/L; PRL, 64.4 +/- 13.6 micrograms/L). GHRH alone increased serum GH to 44.9 +/- 9.8 micrograms/L, significantly less than when GHRH, Arg, and TRH were given. TRH alone increased serum TSH to 6.6 +/- 0.6 mU/L, significantly less than the TSH response to Arg-TRH. The PRL increase after TRH only also was lower (47.2 +/- 6.8 micrograms/L) than the PRL response after Arg-TRH. In vitro Arg had no effect on basal and GHRH-stimulated GH secretion. Our results indicate that Arg administered with GHRH led to higher serum GH levels than did a maximally stimulatory dose of GHRH or Arg alone. The serum TSH response to Arg-TRH also was greater than that to TRH alone. We conclude that the stimulatory effects of Arg are mediated by suppression of endogenous somatostatin secretion.