Many of the metabolic actions of growth hormone (GH) are mediated through insulin-like growth factors or somatomedins. Recombinant human insulin-like growth factor-I (rhIGF-I) has a dichotomous insulin-like and GH-like action when used in different clinical situations in humans. Its effects on carbohydrate metabolism show a prominent increase in total insulin sensitivity, causing hypoglycemia in higher doses and maintaining normal glucose homeostasis in lower doses. This polypeptide selectively stimulates whole body protein synthesis with no effect on proteolysis when given in doses of 100 micrograms/ kg subcutaneously twice daily for at least 5-7 days, effects which are indistinguishable from those of GH. This contrasts with the marked suppression of proteolysis observed when higher doses are given, similar to the effects observed with insulin. When used in combination with rhGH, rhIGF-I has a synergistic effect, improving total nitrogen retention in calorically deprived subjects, yet it does not cause any greater enhancement of whole body protein anabolism in normally fed volunteers than giving rhGH and rhIGF-I individually. This suggests a common pathway for IGF-I and GH enhancing protein anabolism in the normally fed state. rhIGF-I also stimulates linear growth in children with defects in the GH receptor. Recent data show that this potent growth factor has a potential advantage over GH in the treatment of severe protein catabolic states, particularly the glucocorticosteroid-dependent model, as it ameliorates the marked increase in protein catabolism caused by the steroids, but without a diabetogenic effect. Here, a brief overview is provided of available human data on the actions of this peptide on carbohydrate, lipid, and protein metabolism, linear growth, and its anabolic effects. rhIGF-I offers promise in the treatment of selective growth disorders and in protein catabolic and insulin-resistant states.