Growth hormone-releasing hormone and growth hormone-releasing peptide as therapeutic agents to enhance growth hormone secretion in disease and aging

Recent Prog Horm Res. 1997;52:215-44; discussion 244-6.


Growth hormone (GH) secretion is pulsatile and is tightly regulated. In this chapter the effects of aging, nutrition, the feedback effects of IGF-I, and the role of body composition in the decline of GH secretion will be discussed. In GH-deficient adults there is an increase in the amount of intra-abdominal (visceral) fat. Similarly, with increasing age, there is an increase in visceral fat and there is a tight correlation between 24-hour GH release and visceral fat in the elderly. This may have serious metabolic consequences, including insulin resistance and increased cardiovascular risk. There are at least four potential mechanisms for the age-related decline in GH secretion: 1) decreased release of growth hormone releasing-hormone (GHRH); 2) increased release of somatostatin; 3) enhanced sensitivity to IGF-I feedback; and 4) decreased somatotroph mass. The latter two potential mechanisms are discussed. There is little evidence that there is any change in sensitivity to IGF-I feedback with aging and the somatotroph cell mass appears to be preserved in older subjects. The GH axis may be stimulated by either GHRH or by growth hormone-releasing peptide (GHRP) and related compounds. Chronic therapy with GHRH in GH-deficient children restores GH secretion and accelerates linear growth. Mutations of the GHRH receptor lead to GH deficiency and short stature. This indicates the essential role of GHRH in regulation of GH secretion. Growth hormone releasing peptide was discovered in 1981. Recently, the GHRP/GH secretagogue receptor has been cloned and orally active GHRP mimetics have been developed. One such compound, MK-677, stimulates pulsatile GH secretion and its effects persist for 24 hours. Oral administration of MK-677 for a month in the elderly demonstrates that this route stimulates a physiologic pattern of GH secretion. The amplitude of the GH pulses was increased but the number of GH pulses was unchanged. Thus, in older individuals, the amount of GH secreted in 24 hours is restored toward that seen in young adults. This compound also enhances GH secretion in GH-deficient adults who had been GH-deficient during childhood. The development of stable, orally active molecules to stimulate the GHRP/GH secretagogue receptor is a practical reality. These GH secretagogues may have a therapeutic role in short stature and adult GH deficiency. In addition, the use of GH secretagogues in normal aging merits investigation, as growth hormone may regulate body composition in older adults.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Disease*
  • Female
  • Human Growth Hormone / deficiency
  • Human Growth Hormone / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / physiology
  • Male
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena


  • Human Growth Hormone
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I