Growth hormone releasing peptide (GHRP-6) is a synthetic hexapeptide which specifically stimulates secretion of growth hormone (GH) by pituitary somatotrophs. The precise intracellular mechanism by which this is achieved has not been deciphered although it is known to involve protein kinase C (PKC) and Ca2+ but to be cAMP-independent. We have used cell cultures of human pituitary somatotrophinomas to demonstrate powerful effects of GHRP-6 on membrane phosphatidylinositol (PI) turnover, a second messenger system which leads to activation of PKC and mobilisation of intracellular Ca2+ reserves. Incubation of somatotrophinoma cells with GHRP-6 led to a dose-dependent stimulation of rate of PI turnover. GH secretion was increased in parallel. Effects were discernable after only 15 minutes incubation and rose to a maximum at 2 hours. PI turnover was stimulated by GHRP-6 in 8 of 8 tumours examined, effects ranging from 2.1 - 7.9 fold increases. Stimulation of GH secretion by GHRP-6 was independent of presence of gsp oncogenes, emphasising the cAMP-independent nature of its effects. These results provide evidence that the GH-stimulatory effects of GHRP-6 are achieved through activation of the PI second messenger system and thus support earlier findings that PKC and Ca2+ play central roles in mediating the effects of GHRP-6.