Few and controversial results exist on the cellular sites of insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-I synthesis and the type 1 IGF receptor (IGF-1R) in mammalian anterior pituitary. Thus, the present study analysed IGF-I and the IGF-1R in rat pituitary. Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction revealed IGF-I and IGF-1R mRNA expression in pituitary. The sequences of both were identical to the corresponding sequences in other rat organs. In situ hybridization localized IGF-I mRNA in endocrine cells. The majority of the growth hormone (GH) cells and numerous adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) cells exhibited IGF-1R-immunoreactivity at the cell membrane. At lower densities, IGF-1 receptors were also present at the other hormone-producing cell types, indicating a physiological impact of IGF-I for all endocrine cells. IGF-I-immunoreactivity was located constantly in almost all ACTH-immunoreactive cells. At the ultrastructural level, IGF-I-immunoreactivity was confined to secretory granules in co-existence with ACTH-immunoreactivity, indicating a concomitant release of both hormones. Occasionally, IGF-I-immunoreactivity was detected in an interindividually varying number of GH cells. In some individuals, weak IGF-I-immunoreactions were also detected also in follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone cells. Thus, IGF-I seems to be produced as a constituent in ACTH cells, possibly indicating its particular importance in stress response. Generally, IGF-I from the endocrine cells may regulate synthesis and/or release of hormones in an autocrine/paracrine manner as well as prevent apoptosis and stimulate proliferation. Production of IGF-I in GH cells may depend on the physiological status, most likely the serum IGF-I level. IGF-I released from GH cells may suppress GH synthesis and/or release by an autocrine feedback mechanism in addition to the endocrine route.