Growth depression as a side effect of glucocorticoid therapy in childhood is partially mediated by alterations of the somatotropic hormone axis. The mechanisms of interaction between glucocorticoids and somatotropic hormones on the cellular and molecular level are poorly understood. In an experimental model of primary cultured rat growth plate chondrocytes, basal as well as GH (40 ng/ml) or insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-I (60 ng/ml)-stimulated growth was suppressed dose dependently (10(-l2)-10(-7)M) by dexamethasone (Dexa). An IGF-I antibody specifically and dose dependently inhibited the GH- but not the basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF)-stimulated cell proliferation. GH increased the IGF-I concentration in conditioned serum-free culture medium; this was reversed by concomitant Dexa. Dexa time dependently suppressed the transcription of GH receptor (GHR) messenger RNA (mRNA) and down-regulated the basal and GH-stimulated expression of GHR. Whereas no suppressive effect on basal type I IGF-receptor (IGFR) was observed, Dexa blocked the IGF-I induced increase of IGF binding. These results were confirmed by GHR and IGFR immunostaining. We conclude that Dexa impairs the GH-induced stimulation of local secretion and paracrine action of IGF-I and reduces the homologous increase of IGFR and GHR expression. The above experiments give further insight on the interaction between GH and glucocorticoids on the cellular and molecular level of growth plate chondrocytes.