In this study we investigated the direct, short-term effects of human growth hormone (hGH) on the biology of normal adult human osteoblast-like (hOB) cells cultured from trabecular bone explants. In Subconfluent cultures, hGH stimulated hOB proliferation in a dose-dependent fashion (P < 0.001, n = 15) with half-maximal effects at a concentration of 10 ng/ml. These mitogenic effects were detectable within 24 hours as shown by bromodeoxyuridine labeling. In confluent cultures containing mainly quiescent cells, hGH increased levels of alkaline phosphatase (P < 0.05, n = 10) and to a lesser degree levels of procollagen type I carboxyterminal propeptide (PICP) (P = 0.07, n = 9). Effects on osteocalcin (bone GLa protein, BGP) levels were highly variable among different cell strains and only 7 of 10 cell strains showed a stimulatory response (P = 0.16). We also studied the effects of hGH on osteoblastic production of insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) and IGF-II as well as the production of GH-dependent, insulin-like growth factor binding protein 3 (IGFBP-3). Under basal conditions, human osteoblasts produced IGF-II and IGFBP-3 in the conditioned medium. When stimulated with hGH, minor insignificant increase in both IGF-II and IGFBP-3 (125% and 126% of control, respectively) were detectable. No IGF-I was detectable in the conditioned medium under basal conditions or after stimulation with hGH. In conclusion, the results obtained in this study suggest that GH exerts direct anabolic effects on human osteoblasts.