The importance of insulin-like growth factor binding proteins (IGFBPs) in modulating the bioactivity of administered IGFs is poorly understood. This study examines responses of IGFBP-1 and the IGFBP-3 complex to recombinant human IGF-I. Eight fasted subjects received a single dose of 0.1-0.125 mg/kg IGF-I sc. This caused a 10-fold rise in IGFBP-1 over 6 h. falling rapidly after food intake. Peak (6-h) IGFBP-1 values were highly correlated with peak post-prandial (8-h) glucose values (r = 0.941). IGFBP--3 showed little response, decreasing slightly over the 48-h period following IGF-I. Adaptive changes in IGFBPs were studied in fed adults injected daily for 7 days with IGF-I, 0.1 mg/kg sc. Following the first injection. IGFBP-1 had a markedly blunted response compared to that in fasted subjects. However, after the seventh IGF-I injection, a 3.5-fold greater IGFBP-1 response to the same IGF-I dose was seen. Concomitantly with the increased IGFBP-1 responsiveness, mean immunoreactive IGFBP-3 and acidlabile subunit levels decreased significantly (p< 0.005), whereas IGFBP-2 detected by immunoblotting increased. Thus IGF-I administration causes changes in IGFBPs which may be important in regulating IGF-1 bioavailability.