Bone tissue is a source of growth factors; among them, insulinlike growth factor I (IGF-I) is probably an important local regulator of bone formation. This study has been carried out in order to assess the effects of natural menopause on plasma concentrations of IGF-I in the first 6 years after the cessation of gonadal function independent of age. We also examined the relationship between plasma IGF-I levels and bone mineral density (BMD) measured at the lumbar spine (LS), at the ultradistal radius (UDR), and at the junction of the distal and middle thirds of the radius (MR). Sixty-seven healthy nonobese women, aged 45-55, were studied (premenopausal n = 21; postmenopausal n = 46, from 1 to 6 years since menopause). Plasma IGF-I levels were measured by RIA, after acid-ethanol extraction. BMD of the forearm was measured by dual-photon densitometer and BMD of the LS was assessed by quantitative digital radiography. Mean values of IGF-I plasma levels were significantly reduced in postmenopausal women compared to the premenopausal group. Menopausal duration did not influence IGF-I plasma levels in postmenopausal women. We also found a positive correlation between IGF-I levels and BMD measured at MR both in pre- and postmenopausal women, while a correlation with LS and UDR-BMD was found only in fertile subjects. The results show that IGF-I plasma levels decrease immediately after menopause, since significantly lower levels are reached in the first years. The correlations found between plasma IGF-I levels and BMD suggest a possible role of reduced IGF-I in bone loss at particular skeletal sites.