Growth hormone (GH) release was studied in adults of normal stature, ages 21-86 yr. The subjects were 85-115% of ideal body weight, between the 5th and 95th percentiles in height, and free of active or progressive disease. 9 to 12 individuals in each decade from thirds to ninth were evaluated. The following criteria of GH status were measured: serum GH concentration, analyzed by radioimmunoassay at half-hour intervals for 4 h after onset of sleep, and at 1-h intervals from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in 52 subjects; daily retention of N, P, and K in response to 0.168 U human (h)GH/kg body wt3/4/day in 18 subjects; and plasma somatomedin C (SmC) level before and during exogenous hGH treatment in 18 subjects. All 10 individuals, 20-29 yr old, released substantial amounts of endogenous GH during both day and night (average peak serum GH obtained during day and night was 7.3 and 20.3 ng/ml, respectively); average plasma SmC was 1.43 U/ml (95% tolerance limits, 0.64-2.22 U/ml). There was no significant effect of exogenous hGH on elemental balances or on plasma SmC. In contrast, 6 of 12 individuals 60-79 yr old showed the following evidences of impaired GH release; peak waking and sleeping serum GH less than 4 ng/ml; plasma SmC less than 0.38 U/ml; a significant retention in N, P, and K; and a significant rise in plasma SmC, in response to exogenous hGH. Plasma SmC, serum GH during sleep, serum GH during the day, retentions of N, P, and K in response to exogenous hGH, and rise in plasma SmC in response to hGH were all intercorrelated (P less than 0.05). Plasma SmC less than 0.38 U/ml corresponded to peak nocturnal serum GH less than 4 ng/ml. The prevalence of plasma SmC less than 0.38 U/ml increased progressively from age 20 to 90: third decade, 0%; fourth, 11%; fifth, 20%; sixth, 22%; seventh, 42%; eight, 55%; and ninth, 55%. Within each decade, plasma SmC was inversely related to adiposity.