Previous results demonstrate that porcine somatotropes can be separated by density gradient centrifugation into low density (LD) and high density (HD) subpopulations. In rat, two analog somatotrope subpopulations differ morphologically and functionally. In an attempt to determine whether morphological differences were also present within LD and HD porcine somatotropes, we undertook a quantitative electron microscope study of the subcellular organelles of immunoidentified LD and HD somatotropes. In addition, to test for the existence of functional differences, cultures of separated HD and LD subpopulations were treated for 4 h with or without 10 microM GRF-(1-29) and/or 100 microM somatostatin (SRIF), and porcine GH release and intracellular content were evaluated using a homologous enzyme immunoassay. Morphometric results demonstrate that LD somatotropes are smaller in size (P < 0.05) and contain fewer secretory granules (P < 0.05) and more rough endoplasmic reticulum (P < 0.05) than HD somatotropes. In terms of secretion, LD somatotropes showed a classical response; GRF increased GH release 1.7-fold (n = 6; P < 0.05) over the control value, whereas treatment with SRIF alone did not affect basal GH release in this subpopulation, but partially blocked GRF-induced GH release. HD somatotropes responded to GRF with a similar 1.7-fold increase in GH release. However, SRIF administered alone or in combination with GRF exerted a paradoxical stimulatory effect on HD somatotropes (2.15- and 2.12-fold over control value, respectively; n = 6; P < 0.05). These results demonstrate that the porcine somatotrope population is composed of two major subpopulations that display a distinctive pattern of ultrastructural organization and a markedly divergent secretory response to in vitro SRIF treatment.