In the present study, we determined that rat mononuclear leukocytes possess specific receptors for growth hormone releasing hormone (GHRH). The results show that the binding of 125I-labeled GHRH to spleen and thymic cells was saturable and of a high affinity, approximately 3.5 and 2.5 nM for thymus and spleen cells, respectively. The Scatchard analysis revealed a binding capacity of approximately 54 and 35 fmol per 106 cells on thymus and spleen, respectively. The binding of GHRH was not competed by 10-6 M growth hormone, corticotropin releasing factor, substance P or luteinizing hormone releasing hormone and vasointestinal peptide (VIP). Partial characterization of the receptor was accomplished by crosslinking 125I-labeled GHRH to thymus cells with disuccinimidyl suberate and polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. Autoradiography of dried gels showed two major components in leukocytes and pituitary cells at approximately 42 and 27 kDa which could be diminished by unlabeled GHRH. The treatment of leukocytes with GHRH (10 nM) rapidly increased the intracellular free calcium concentration from a basal level of 70 ± 20 nM to a plateau value of 150 ± 20 nM in 6 min after stimulation. The functional activity of GHRH receptors was studied further by measuring lymphocyte proliferative responses and the increase in the level of cytoplasmic GH RNA. The presence of GHRH alone resulted in a dose-dependent increase in thymidine and uridine incorporation and a dose-dependent increase in the levels of GH RNA in the cytoplasm. Taken together, the results show that lymphocytes contain specific receptors for GHRH that are coupled to important biological responses and further support the concept of bidirectional communication between the immune and neuroendocrine tissues. © 1991.