Growth hormone (GH)-releasing peptides (GHRPs), a family of synthetic oligopeptides which stimulate GH release, were identified more than a decade ago. The effects of these peptides on GH release have been described in vivo and in vitro, in both animals and humans, using various doses and administration routes. It is generally accepted that GHRPs stimulate the release of GH by acting at the level of the pituitary through a receptor different to that for the endogenous GH-releasing hormone (GHRH). In addition, it has been reported that there are specific binding sites for these peptides in the hypothalamus and that systemic administration of GHRPs increases the expression of the immediate early gene c-fos in a subpopulation of hypothalamic neurons. However, the identity of these hypothalamic neurons and the mechanism of action of GHRPs at both the hypothalamic and pituitary levels remain unknown. One interesting aspect of GHRPs is that they are orally active and this phenomenon has been demonstrated in both animals and humans. Furthermore, these drugs stimulate GH secretion in humans dose-dependently with the magnitude and duration of this response being comparable to that seen with an intravenous peptide bolus. We have studied the oral activity of GHRP-2 on GH release in normal children. In addition, we have analyzed the response to GHRP-2 of obese adolescents, as well as the effects of an intravenous bolus of GHRH alone and GHRH plus GHRP-2. Orally administered GHRP-2 stimulates GH secretion in normal children and, although it seems that this drug is more potent in girls, there were no statistical differences between the groups. Characteristically, GH levels started to increase by 15 min, peaked at 60 min and returned to basal concentrations by 180 min. The effect of GHRP-2 was synergistic with GHRH 1-29 NH2. In addition, obese subjects appeared to have a greater response to this peptide than did normal controls. To study the effects of GHRPs on hypothalamic GHRH and somatostatin neurons, female dwarf rats (dw/dw) were treated continuously with GHRP-6 (1 mg/kg per 24 h) for 14 days. In situ hybridization for GHRH and SS was performed. We found that GHRP-6 stimulated GHRH mRNA levels in the posterior arcuate nucleus (ARC), with no significant effect in the anterior ARC or ventromedial hypothalamic neurons. SS mRNA levels in the posterior periventricular nucleus (PeN) were decreased after GHRP-6 treatment, while no effect was seen in the anterior PeN, ARC, or lateral paraventricular nucleus. These results suggest that GHRP-6 treatment modulates hypothalamic neurons controlling GH secretion; however, whether this effect is direct or mediated through another factor remains to be elucidated.