Thymulin is a Zn-bound nonapeptide produced by the thymic epithelial cells (TEC) whose secretion is modulated by growth hormone (GH), among others. We assessed the ability of thymulin to influence the release of GH from dispersed anterior pituitary (AP) cells from young, middle-aged and senescent Sprague-Dawley female rats. Perifused and incubated AP cells were used in different sets of experiments and GH release was measured by RIA. Perifusion of young and senescent AP cells with thymulin doses, ranging from 10<sup>–8</sup> to 10<sup>–5</sup> M, gave a logarithmic dose-response pattern of GH. Supernatants from TEC lines also showed GH secretagogue activity. The GH release was always lower in the senescent cells. AP cells incubated with 10<sup>–8</sup>–10<sup>–3</sup> M thymulin showed a time- and dose-dependent response, the latter being bell-shaped with a maximum at 10<sup>–7</sup> M thymulin. Preincubation of thymulin with an antithymulin serum completely quenched the secretagogue activity of the hormone. Coincubation of thymulin with GHRH revealed a semiadditive release of GH in young and middle-aged AP cells and an additive effect in senescent cells. In middle-aged AP cells, the synthetic GH secretagogue GHRP-6 showed a synergistic effect with thymulin on GH release. The calcium chelator EGTA, but not the calcium ionophore A23187, blocked the GH-releasing activity of thymulin in AP cells. The cAMP enhancers, caffeine, NaF and forskolin significantly increased the thymulin-stimulated release of GH while trifluoperazine, a protein kinase C inhibitor, had no effect. The inositol phosphate enhancer LiCl potentiated the action of thymulin on GH release. The data suggest that the GH-releasing activity of thymulin is receptor-mediated and involves calcium, cAMP and inositol phosphates. In addition, senescence appears to impair somatotrope responsiveness to thymulin.