In this study we analyzed the production of GH mRNA and secretion of GH by purified subpopulations of rat lymphoid cells. The data demonstrate that mononuclear leukocytes from various tissues, including spleen, thymus, bone marrow, Peyer's patches, and peripheral blood, all have the ability to produce GH mRNA and secrete GH. Data obtained with cells separated by adherence, nylon wool columns, and positive and negative sorting with monoclonal antibodies that define B, monocyte, T helper and T cytotoxic cells show that several different cell types have the ability to produce GH mRNA. The results suggest that B cells, macrophages, and T helper cells produce more GH mRNA and protein than that of T cytotoxic cells. Natural killer (NK) cells also produce detectable levels of GH mRNA and protein. To validate that leukocyte GH RNA produced in vitro was similar in structure to pituitary GH RNA, we studied the RNA by reverse transcription and the polymerase chain reaction. A sample of the PCR reaction products, analyzed by gel electrophoresis, showed a single major DNA band corresponding in length (600 base pairs) to the distance between the 5′ ends of the two GH-specific primers. The DNA band was specifically labeled with a GH-specific probe after Southern transfer to nitrocellulose. Leukocyte GH purified by immunoaffinity chromatography from culture fluids was shown to be bioactive based on its ability to stimulate the incorporation of tritiated thymidine in primary rat spleen cell cultures. The bioactivity could be blocked with specific antibodies to rat GH. Taken together, the data suggest that there is heterogeneity within lymphocytes regarding their ability to produce GH and are consistent with the idea that GH may be active in local immune responses. © 1991.