We examined changes in spontaneously secreted growth hormone with aging by studying the 24-h integrated concentration of GH (IC-GH) of 173 nonobese subjects (height, greater than or equal to 5%; 7-65 yr of age). There was no significant difference in IC-GH on repeat testing of 13 men or in 23 women studied in the follicular and again in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. The level of IC-GH was strongly effected by age; children had the highest mean IC-GH, and there was a decline in IC-GH with increasing age after the second decade of life. The correlation of IC-GH with age was highly significant (r = 0.73; P less than 0.0001). There was no difference in IC-GH between males and females when matched for age. The mean IC-GH at Tanner stage 5 of puberty (7.4 +/- 2.0 ng/ml) was higher than that at stages 2-4 (5.7 +/- 1.4; P less than 0.0005) or that in prepubertal children (5.8 +/- 1.4; P less than 0.001). Thus, age and pubertal status must be carefully considered when interpreting the IC-GH for patients suspected of having deficient or excessive secretion of GH.