Recombinant human growth hormone (rhGH; Saizen, Serono, Spain) has been recently used as an anabolic agent in several catabolic states, including malnourished chronic dialysis patients. However, up-to-date, comparative studies with control groups of dialysis patients have not been reported. The aim of the present study was to assess the effects of rhGH on nutritional status in a group of malnourished adult chronic dialysis patients undergoing both continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD) and hemodialysis (HD). The patients were randomly assigned to the control group (nine patients; 6 women, 3 men; mean age, 58.3 +/- 5.6 years; seven undergoing CAPD, two undergoing HD) or the rhGH group (eight patients; three women, five men; mean age, 63.9 +/- 3.1 years; four undergoing CAPD, four undergoing HD). Both groups were similar at baseline. All patients were given dietary prescriptions (35 kcal/kg/d and 1 g protein/kg ideal body weight/d) during 4 weeks. In the rhGH group, rhGH was administered at 0.2 IU/kg/d subcutaneously (SC) during this period. Anthropometric and analytic parameters were assessed before (0 weeks) therapy and at 2 and 4 weeks after starting therapy. The rhGH group showed an increase of 1.238 kg in body weight from 64.3 +/- 4.3 (mean +/- standard error of the mean [SEM]) to 65.6 +/- 4.9 kg (P < 0.05). Serum insulin-like growth factor type 1 (IGF-1) concentrations increased from 216.6 +/- 42.5 to 581.2 +/- 171.5 ng/mL (4 weeks; P < 0.01) and transferrin levels increased from 271.2 +/- 16.3 to 314.5 +/- 21.2 mg/dL (4 weeks; P < 0.05). A significant reduction in blood urea nitrogen (BUN) level was observed (62.1 +/- 1.8 v 46.8 +/- 3.8 mg/dL; 4 weeks; P < 0.05). Mean daily protein intake, determined by individual dietary survey, at 0 and 4 weeks, remained constant in both groups. In conclusion, weight gain and IGF-1 and transferrin level increases and BUN level decreases, despite the constant oral intake, suggest that short-term rhGH administration is associated with an anabolic reaction in malnourished dialysis patients.