Background: A stepwise increment of the GH dose is an approach aimed at avoiding adverse events. We investigated GH sensitivity by studying IGF-I and IGFBP-3 concentrations during the initial phase of GH treatment. Methods: Our investigation was part of the regular follow-up of prepubertal children with GH deficiency (GHD) (n = 31) and small for gestational age (SGA) (n = 23). Dosage was increased in three steps: one-third at the start, two-thirds after 14 days, and the full dose after 28 days (full dose: GHD = 28 µg/kg body weight (BW)/day; SGA = 60 µg/kg BW/day). Blood samples were taken on days 0, 14 and 28, as well as in conjunction with anthropometrical examinations after 3, 6 and 12 months. IGF-I and IGFBP-3 were measured by means of published in-house RIAs and age-related references were used to calculate standard deviation scores (SDS). Height velocity (cm/year) and Δ HT SDS were taken as growth response parameters. Results:Before GH treatment (GHD vs. SGA; median and p values): age (years) (6.6 vs. 6.0; n.s.), HT SDS (–2.6 vs. –3.2; p < 0.05); GH amount after stepping up (µg/kg BW/day) (28 vs. 60; p < 0.01); BW SDS (–0.5 vs. –2.9; p < 0.01); max. GH stimulated (µg/l) (5.6 vs. 10.8; p < 0.01); IGF-I SDS (–3.5 vs. –1.8; p < 0.01); IGFBP-3 SDS (–2.0 vs. 0.8; p < 0.01). After 1 year of GH therapy: HT velocity (cm/year) (9.8 vs. 9.6; n.s.), Δ HT SDS (0.9 vs. 0.9; n.s.); WT velocity (kg/year) (3.3 vs. 3.5; n.s.). Our results show that changes in growth similar to GHD could be induced in SGA by a dosage that was twice as high as the replacement dose given in GHD. GH dose and HT velocity did not correlate in both groups. IGF-I and IGFBP-3 increased as follows in GHD and SGA during stepping up of the dosage (ng/ml, GHD vs. SGA): at start, 54 vs. 89; at day 14, 78 vs. 132; at day 28, 90 vs. 167; at 3 months, 118 vs. 218. There was the same relationship between dose levels and absolute IGF-I concentrations in both groups. In terms of IGF-I SDS, the dose-response curve in SGA showed a shift to the right in comparison to GHD, thus indicating lower sensitivity to GH. The dynamics of IGF-I and IGFBP-3 differed, as IGFBP-3 peaked earlier (on day 28). In GHD, IGF-I SDS at 3 months was –0.7 vs. +0.9 in SGA. Near-identical levels were found for Δ IGF-I SDS and IGFBP-3 SDS above basal levels for each time-point investigated. First year HT velocity in GHD correlated negatively with basal IGF-I SDS (R2 = 0.33; p <0.001) and basal IGFBP-3 (R2 = 0.17; p <0.05) but did not correlate with the IGF-I increment during the 0- to 3-month period. Conversely, first year HT velocity correlated (+) in SGA with the IGF SDS increment during the 0- to 3-month period (R2 = 0.26; p = <0.05). Height velocity in SGA, however, correlated neither with basal IGF-I and IGFBP-3 nor with the 0- to 3-month increments of IGFBP-3 SDS. Conclusions: IGFs increase during initial GH therapy, thus raising questions about short-term IGF generation tests. (I) In terms of IGF generation, substantially lower sensitivity to GH was observable in SGA. (II) Higher GH sensitivity during first year catch-up growth is associated with GHD, but in SGA it is attributable to increases in IGF. A wider range of GH dosages needs to be explored in order to gain further insight into the relationship between GH dose, IGF levels, and growth. Monitoring IGFs is a practical means for exploring GH sensitivity during dosage stepping up.

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