In the present study, we 1) determined whether the impaired spontaneous 24-h GH secretion as well as the blunted GH response to provocative testing in obese subjects are persistent disorders or transient defects reversed with weight loss and 2) investigated 24-h urinary GH excretion and basal levels of insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I), IGF-binding protein-3 (IGFBP-3), as well as insulin in obese subjects before and after a massive weight loss. We studied 18 obese subjects (age, 26 +/- 1 yr; body mass index, 40.9 +/- 1.1 kg/m2); 18 normal age-, and sex-matched control subjects; and 9 reduced weight obese subjects after a diet-induced average weight loss of 30.3 +/- 4.6 kg. Twenty-four-hour spontaneous GH secretion was estimated by obtaining 3240 integrated 20-min blood samples using a constant blood withdrawal technique and computerized algorithms. Body composition was determined using anthropometric measurements and dual energy x-ray absorptiometry scanning (DXA). In the obese subjects, 24-h spontaneous GH release profiles and the GH responses to insulin-induced hypoglycemia and L-arginine as well as basal IGF-I levels and the IGF-I/IGFBP-3 molar ratio were decreased, whereas insulin levels were elevated compared to those in normal subjects. In obese subjects, 24-h spontaneous GH secretion and serum IGF-I levels were inversely related to abdominal fat (r = -0.67; P < 0.01) and percent body fat (r = -0.69; P < 0.01), respectively. The decreased 24-h spontaneous GH release profiles, the decreased GH responses to insulin-induced hypoglycemia and L-arginine, the decreased basal IGF-I levels and IGF-I/IGFBP-3 molar ratio, as well as the elevated insulin levels were returned to normal after a massive weight loss in the obese subjects. In conclusion, the present study has shown reversible defects in 24-h spontaneous GH release profiles, basal IGF-I levels, and the IGF-I/IGFBP-3 molar ratio in obese subjects. The recovery of the 24-h GH release points to an acquired transient defect rather than a persistent preexisting disorder.