The effects of recombinant human growth hormone (GH, 0.1 U.kg body wt-1.12 h-1) on systemic and renal acid-base homeostasis were investigated in six normal subjects with preexisting sustained chronic metabolic acidosis, induced by NH4Cl administration (4.2 mmol.kg body wt-1.day-1). GH administration increased and maintained plasma bicarbonate concentration from 14.1 +/- 1.4 to 18.6 +/- 1.1 mmol/l (P < 0.001). The GH-induced increase in plasma bicarbonate concentration was the consequence of a significant increase in net acid excretion that was accounted for largely by an increase in renal NH+4 excretion sufficient in magnitude to override a decrease in urinary titratable acid excretion. During GH administration, urinary pH increased and correlated directly and significantly with urinary NH4+ concentration. Urinary net acid excretion rates were not different during the steady-state periods of acidosis and acidosis with GH administration. Glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid activities increased significantly in response to acidosis and were suppressed (glucocorticoid) or decreased to control levels (mineralocorticoid) by GH. The partial correction of metabolic acidosis occurred despite GH-induced renal sodium retention (180 mmol; gain in weight of 1.8 +/- 0.2 kg, P < 0.005) and decreased glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid activities. Thus GH (and/or insulin-like growth factor I) increased plasma bicarbonate concentration and partially corrected metabolic acidosis. This effect was generated in large part by and maintained fully by a renal mechanism (i.e., increased renal NH3 production and NH+4/net acid excretion).