Hypopituitary patients have increased mortality from vascular disease, and in these patients, early markers of atherosclerosis [increased carotid artery intima-media thickness (IMT) and reduced distensibility] are more prevalent. As GH replacement can reverse some risk factors of atherosclerosis, the present study examined the effect of GH treatment on morphological and functional changes in the carotid and brachial arteries of GH-deficient (GHD) adults. Eleven GHD hypopituitary men (24-49 yr old) were treated with recombinant human GH (0.018 U/kg BW x day) for 18 months. IMT of the common carotid artery (CCA) and the carotid bifurcation (CB), and flow-mediated endothelium-dependent dilation (EDD) of the brachial artery were measured by B mode ultrasound before and at 3, 6, 12, and 18 months of treatment, and values were compared with those in 12 age-matched control men. Serum concentrations of lipids, lipoprotein(a), insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I), and IGF-binding protein-3 (IGFBP-3) were also measured. In GHD men before treatment the IMTs of the CCA [mean(SD), 0.67(0.05) mm] and CB [0.75(0.04) mm] were significantly greater (P < 0.001) than those in control men [0.52(0.07) and 0.65(0.07) mm, respectively]. GH treatment normalized the IMT of the CCA by 6 months [0.53(0.04) mm] and that of the CB by 3 months [0.68(0.05) mm]. The IMT of the carotid artery (CCA and CB) was negatively correlated with serum IGF-I (r = -0.53; P < 0.0001). There was a significant improvement in flow-mediated EDD of the brachial artery at 3 months, which was sustained at 6 and 18 months of GH treatment (P < 0.05). GH treatment increased high density lipoprotein cholesterol at 3 and 6 months, but did not reduce total or low density lipoprotein cholesterol and was without effect on lipoprotein(a). There was no correlation between plasma lipids and changes in IMT or EDD of the arteries examined. In conclusion, GH treatment of hypopituitary GHD men reverses early morphological and functional atherosclerotic changes in major arteries and, if maintained, may reduce vascular morbidity and mortality. GH seems to act via IGF-I, which is known to have important effects on endothelial cell function.