Abnormalities of GH secretion and clearance are well-documented in poorly controlled insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), but the contribution of the receptor (GHR) and the GH-binding protein (GHBP) to these abnormalities has not been defined. We studied the expression of the GHR/GHBP gene in the livers, hearts and kidneys in streptozocin-induced diabetes (STZ-D) in the rat. GHR and GHBP mRNA levels were measured by Northern blot and ribonuclease protection assays. Whereas levels of GHR and GHBP mRNA were significantly decreased in liver and heart of STZ-D rats when compared with the control group (P<0.01), GHR mRNA was significantly increased in the kidneys of STZ-D rats (P=0.03). Six days of insulin treatment did not significantly alter the levels of GHR/GHBP mRNA in the liver or heart of STZ-D rats, but significantly decreased GHBP mRNA (P=0.04) in the kidney. Circulating IGF-I was reduced, as was IGF-I mRNA in the liver and heart of STZ-D rats; only circulating IGF-I was restored by insulin treatment. Neither STZ-D nor insulin treatment affected IGF-I or IGF-I receptor mRNA concentrations in the kidney. We conclude that (1) STZ-D modulates the expression of the GHR/GHBP gene and (2) that these changes in GHR/GHBP mRNA concentrations are tissue-specific; STZ-D decreases GHR/GHBP mRNA in liver and heart tissue but increases GHR mRNA concentrations in the kidney. Our results indicate a role for decreased numbers of hepatic GHRs in the pathogenesis of resistance to GH's actions in terms of IGF-I generation and promotion of linear growth in IDDM. We postulate that increased GHR expression in the kidney may be involved in the renal complications of IDDM.