The human GH receptor (hGHR) contains nine intracellular and seven extracellular cysteines, of which six are linked by disulfide bonds and one, at position 241 proximal to the membrane, is free. Recently, an alternatively spliced GHR isoform has been isolated; it encodes a truncated receptor lacking most of the cytoplasmic domain (hGHRtr). In the present study, we have examined the effect of sulfhydryl group(s) inactivation on receptor internalization and GH binding-protein (GHBP) generation from the human (h) and rabbit (rb) full-length GHR, as well as from hGHRtr and a mutant of the free extracellular cysteine (hGHRtr-C241A), expressed in Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells. In CHO/rbGHR and CHO/hGHR cells, permeable sulfhydryl-reactive agents, like N-ethylmaleimide (NEM) and iodacetamide (IA), inhibited GHR internalization and induced an immediate dose-dependent loss of cellular GHR, associated with a concomitant marked increase in released GHBP. In contrast, the membrane impermeable IA derivative A-484 had no effect on either GHBP release or on GHR internalization. NEM exposure of CHO cells, expressing hGHRtr, resulted in a dose-dependent increase in GHBP generation, but only a moderate decrease in cellular hGHRtr. The importance of the only unpaired cysteine in these processes was evaluated in CHO/hGHRtr-C241A cells. hGHRtr-C241A was similar to hGHRtr in its impaired internalization and enhanced GHBP release by NEM. Taken together, these data suggest that intracellular sulfhydryl groups, within membranal endocytic vesicles, that do not belong to the GHR molecule, are involved in receptor internalization and GHBP generation. In addition, the present study demonstrates that despite impaired hGHR internalization/down-regulation, the inducible release of GHBP was not affected, further suggesting that GHR endocytosis is not a prerequisite for GHBP generation.