Neonatal somatotropic function is characterized by a discrepancy between elevated growth hormone (GH) levels and low IGF I levels. This study aimed at explaining this discrepancy, particularly to examining if it could result from low GH bioactivity. Serum concentrations of bioactive GH (bio GH), GH measured by radioimmunoassay (riGH), GH binding protein (GHBP), IGF I and IGF binding proteins (IGFBP) were determined in 27 premature and term newborns during the first month of life. At day 4, riGH and bio GH concentrations were elevated in both premature and term newborns as compared with normal prepubertal children; GHBP and IGF I levels were low, with a positive correlation with gestational age (P < 0.001). There was a positive correlation between GHBP and IGF I levels. IGFBP-1 and IGFBP-2 levels were elevated and negatively correlated with gestational age (P < 0.005). IGFBP-3 levels were within the range of prepubertal children values and positively correlated with gestational age (P < 0.005). During the first month, riGH and bio GH levels decreased in all infants, while IGFI levels increased in premature infants only, and GHBP levels in term infants only. The elevated levels of bio GH during the first days of life appear to be related to the low levels of IGF I due to a reduced number or function of GH receptors. In premature infants the decrease in GH levels observed afterwards appears to be secondary to the increase in IGF I levels. In term infants, in the absence of increase in IGFI levels other(s) factor(s) seem(s) to be involved.
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