The effects of the alpha-2 adrenoceptor agonist clonidine (CLO) on the growth hormone (GH) regulatory neuronal systems, growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH) and somatostatin (SS), were studied in adult male rats given a single or a short-term administration (1, 3 and 6 days) of the drug. Acute administration of CLO significantly decreased hypothalamic GHRH content [leaving unaltered GHRH messenger RNA (mRNA) levels] and increased plasma GH levels; hypothalamic SS content/mRNA levels and pituitary GH content/mRNA levels remained unchanged. In 1- and 3-day CLO-treated rats, by contrast, decreased hypothalamic GHRH content was coupled with a significant reduction in GHRH mRNA levels. In these rats, pituitary GH content and mRNA levels were also significantly increased, whereas hypothalamic SS content and mRNA levels remained unaltered. In 6-day CLO-treated rats, hypothalamic GHRH content and mRNA levels were still significantly reduced, plasma GH levels were increased, but to a lesser extent than in 1- and 3-day CLO-treated rats, and pituitary GH content and mRNA reverted to control levels. Hypothalamic SS content and mRNA levels remained unaltered. These results indicate that 1) functional activation of alpha-2 adrenergic receptors by CLO increases GHRH release from the hypothalamus, 2) CLO, via GHRH, increases GH secretion and biosynthesis, which in turn feeds back in the hypothalamus to reduce GHRH biosynthesis, and 3) reduction of hypothalamic GH-stimulatory activity tones down the initial pituitary somatotropic hyperfunction. Unaltered hypothalamic SS content and mRNA levels in all CLO-treated rats suggests that the somatostatinergic system is less sensitive than the GHRH system to changes in circulating GH levels.