Differential Diagnosis of the Short IGF-I-Deficient Child with Apparently Normal Growth Hormone Secretion

Horm Res Paediatr. 2021;94(3-4):81-104. doi: 10.1159/000516407. Epub 2021 Jun 4.


The current differential diagnosis for a short child with low insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) and a normal growth hormone (GH) peak in a GH stimulation test (GHST), after exclusion of acquired causes, includes the following disorders: (1) a decreased spontaneous GH secretion in contrast to a normal stimulated GH peak ("GH neurosecretory dysfunction," GHND) and (2) genetic conditions with a normal GH sensitivity (e.g., pathogenic variants of GH1 or GHSR) and (3) GH insensitivity (GHI). We present a critical appraisal of the concept of GHND and the role of 12- or 24-h GH profiles in the selection of children for GH treatment. The mean 24-h GH concentration in healthy children overlaps with that in those with GH deficiency, indicating that the previously proposed cutoff limit (3.0-3.2 μg/L) is too high. The main advantage of performing a GH profile is that it prevents about 20% of false-positive test results of the GHST, while it also detects a low spontaneous GH secretion in children who would be considered GH sufficient based on a stimulation test. However, due to a considerable burden for patients and the health budget, GH profiles are only used in few centres. Regarding genetic causes, there is good evidence of the existence of Kowarski syndrome (due to GH1 variants) but less on the role of GHSR variants. Several genetic causes of (partial) GHI are known (GHR, STAT5B, STAT3, IGF1, IGFALS defects, and Noonan and 3M syndromes), some responding positively to GH therapy. In the final section, we speculate on hypothetical causes.

Keywords: GH1; GHSR; Growth hormone; Growth hormone receptor; IGF1R; IGFALS; Insulin-like growth factor I; STAT5B; Short stature.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Dwarfism* / diagnosis
  • Dwarfism* / genetics
  • Dwarfism* / metabolism
  • Dwarfism, Pituitary* / diagnosis
  • Dwarfism, Pituitary* / genetics
  • Dwarfism, Pituitary* / metabolism
  • Human Growth Hormone / genetics
  • Human Growth Hormone / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / deficiency*
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / metabolism
  • Muscle Hypotonia* / diagnosis
  • Muscle Hypotonia* / genetics
  • Muscle Hypotonia* / metabolism
  • Noonan Syndrome* / diagnosis
  • Noonan Syndrome* / genetics
  • Noonan Syndrome* / metabolism
  • Spine / abnormalities*
  • Spine / metabolism


  • IGF1 protein, human
  • Human Growth Hormone
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I

Supplementary concepts

  • Kowarski syndrome
  • Miller-McKusick-Malvaux-Syndrome (3M Syndrome)