During development, the insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) gene is expressed in a tissue specific manner; however, the molecular mechanisms governing its developmental regulation remain poorly defined. To examine the hypothesis that expression of the growth hormone (GH) receptor accounts, in part, for the tissue specific expression of the IGF-I gene during development, the developmental regulation of IGF-I and GH receptor gene expression in rat tissues was examined. The level of IGF-I and GH receptor mRNA was quantified in RNA prepared from rats between day 17 of gestation (E17) and 17 months of age (17M) using an RNase protection assay. Developmental regulation of IGF-I gene expression was tissue specific with four different patterns of expression seen. In liver, IGF-I mRNA levels increased markedly between E17 and postnatal day 45 (P45) and declined thereafter. In contrast, in brain, skeletal muscle and testis, IGF-I mRNA levels decreased between P5 and 4M but were relatively unchanged thereafter. In heart and kidney, a small increase in IGF-I mRNA levels was observed between the early postnatal period and 4 months, whereas in lung, minimal changes were observed during development. The changes in GH receptor mRNA levels were, in general, coordinate with the changes in IGF-I mRNA levels, except in skeletal muscle. Interestingly, quantification of GH receptor levels by Western blot analysis in skeletal muscle demonstrated changes coordinate with IGF-I mRNA levels. The levels of the proteins which mediate GH receptor signaling (STAT1, -3, and -5, and JAK2) were quantified by Western blot analysis. These proteins also are expressed in a tissue specific manner during development. In some cases, the pattern of expression was coordinate with IGF-I gene expression, whereas in others it was discordant. To further define molecular mechanisms for the developmental regulation of IGF-I gene expression, protein binding to IGFI-FP1, a protein binding site that is in the major promoter of the rat IGF-I gene and is important for basal promoter activity in vitro, was examined. Gel shift analyses using a 34-base pair oligonucleotide that contained IGFI-FP1 did not demonstrate changes in protein binding that paralleled those in IGF-I gene expression, suggesting that protein binding to IGFI-FP1 does not contribute to the developmental regulation of IGF-I gene expression, at least in brain and liver. In summary, the present studies demonstrate coordinate expression of the IGF-I gene and GH receptor during development and suggest that GH receptor expression contributes to the tissue specific expression of the IGF- I gene during development.