Children with GH deficiency have enlarged fat cells but a reduced number of fat cells compared with healthy children. After treatment with human GH (hGH) both fat cell volume and number are shifted toward normal. To clarify the role of hGH in fat cell formation in human adipose tissue, we investigated the effect of hGH on the proliferation and the differentiation of cultured human adipocyte precursor cells obtained from five children and 10 adults. In a chemically defined serum-free medium treatment of adipocyte precursor cells with hGH led to an increase in IGF-I production and a stimulation of cell proliferation, which could be blocked by a MAb raised against human IGF-I. hGH dose-dependently reduced the number of differentiating cells and suppressed the expression of glycerol-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GPDH), a marker of adipose differentiation. No significant differences in the hGH effects on proliferation and differentiation capacities were seen between cultures obtained from children and adults. In newly differentiated adipocytes, hGH inhibited glucose uptake and lipogenesis, and stimulated lipolysis. Scatchard analysis of hGH competition experiments using 125I-labeled hGH yielded a linear plot with an apparent Kd of 1.08 nM and an estimated number of 7000 hGH receptors per cell. These data suggest that hGH is able to enlarge the human adipocyte precursor pool via induction of IGF-I synthesis but exhibits a direct antiadipogenic activity. hGH is also able to reduce fat cell volume by reducing lipogenesis and increasing lipolysis.