The plasma growth hormone (GH) response to direct stimulation with growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH) before and after a standard meal was investigated in 14 polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) subjects. Data were compared with those obtained from 14 healthy normovulatory matched patients. All women underwent an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) (75 g) and basal plasma hormone concentrations were evaluated. On a different day all subjects had a GHRH test (50 microg GHRH) both before and after lunch randomly. In obese PCOS subjects the GH response to GHRH was blunted after a meal, while in obese control patients there was an enhanced response of GH to GHRH after a meal. Normal control subjects showed an inhibition of the GH response after feeding and lean PCOS subjects showed a trend toward an augmented GHRH related secretion after a meal significantly higher than normal controls (P < 0.05) but not significantly higher than the pre-prandial response. In conclusion, the data indicate in PCOS a derangement of GH secretion related to food ingestion; in particular obese PCOS patients did not exhibit any change of GH response after a meal compared with the paradoxical response observed in obese controls. Several other factors beyond body mass index and hyperinsulinism could be involved in these pathophysiological events.