In this study both sexes of two strains of chicken with genetically different growth potentials (broiler- and laying-type) were used to investigate growth hormone (GH) gene expression during posthatch development from day 7 (D7) to D56 by using the in situ hybridization technique and Northern analysis. In pituitaries of both strains a high GH mRNA signal was found as early as D7 by in situ hybridization, showing clear differences in the pattern of gene expression between the two strains. By Northern hybridization sex differences were detectable in all age groups of broilers, with higher levels throughout in males. In layers, however, females showed consistently higher levels compared with males until D21. While signal intensities decreased in the broiler strain during the investigation period, the layer-type strain seemed to express GH mRNA more continuously, reaching significantly (P<0·01) higher GH mRNA levels than broilers at D56. Plasma GH concentrations ran parallel to GH mRNA in early stages but showed a peak earlier at D14 and decreased after D35 in both sexes and strains. Determination of growth as weekly weight gains, however, proved that a period of rapid growth (at a higher level in both sexes of the broiler strain) at D7 was followed by a strong decrease from D14 to D21. A plateau of constant growth was reached until the end of the observation period with similar rates in both strains and sexes. Analysis of plasma thyroid hormones tri-iodothyronine/thyroxine (T3/T4) showed an increase in T3 concentrations in both strains and sexes in early stages and a decrease thereafter. No clear strain differences were measured. T4 plasma concentrations increased from D7 to D14 in broilers and D21 in layers when a plateau was reached. From the results we conclude that generally there is a good correlation between GH mRNA and plasma GH concentrations in both strains investigated. Neither parameter, however, is coupled directly with the growth rate. Thus the early rapid growth corresponds to relatively low levels of GH mRNA and plasma GH concentrations, but high T3 levels. Later, decreased growth rates are linked to increasing amounts of GH mRNA as well as increasing plasma GH concentrations in both layers and broilers. Towards the end of the observation period there was a strain divergence visible with increased amounts of GH mRNA in layers but a strong reduction in broilers. Moreover, plasma GH concentrations decreased more slowly in layers than in broilers.