The physiologic relationships of plasma TSH, T4 and T3 levels measured every 20 min in seven healthy young men and one healthy young woman have been investigated. A nocturnal TSH surge was observed in all subjects on both nights of the 36-48 h baseline observation period. In males the maximum plasma TSH value occurred at 2300 h. The mean peak TSH level was 2.0 +/- 0.3 (se) muU/ml compared with a mean of 1.3 +/- 0.9 muU/ml for the entire baseline records of the 8 subjects. The effect of iv infusion of 32-1000 mug of somatostatin (SRIF) for 1 1/2-3 h was investigated in four of the male subjects during 2 or 4 consecutive nights following the control period. Temporal relationships between the hormonal fluctuations observed throughout the control period and during the nights of SRIF infusion were investigated using time series analysis and Student's t test. Rapid fluctuations of plasma T4 and T3 concentration were noted, even when corrected for changes in total protein concentration, with an average coefficient of variation of 10% for T3 and 12% for T4. No increment of plasma T4 or T3 followed the nocturnal TSH surge nor were the rapid fluctuations of the thyroid hormones altered by the TSH surge. SRIF infusion commencing at 2300 h suppressed the elevated TSH levels (P is less than 0.01) while similar infusions begun at 2100 h blocked the expected nocturnal TSH rise observed during control periods in male subjects. Plasma T4 and T3 levels were not significantly affected by the administration of SRIF. The relationship of the rapid plasma T4 and T3 variations to postural changes was investigated in four euthyroid male subjects. Serum levels of TSH, T4 and T3 and total protein were determined at 15 min intervals while postural changes were carefully monitored. The ratios of T4 and T3 to total protein were relatively stable (3-4% coefficient of variation) when the subjects were kept in a supine and motionless position. A 50 mug bolus infusion of T4 raised the basal T4 level by only 1-2 mug/dl. The data suggest that short-term fluctuation of plasma T4 and T3 result from changes in protein concentration due to hemodynamic responses to alteration of posture and physical activity and not to pulsatile secretion of T4 and T3.