The aim of this work was to study the influence of the endocrine balance between thyroid hormones, insulin and growth hormone (GH) on the regulation of insulin-like growth factor binding proteins (IGFBPs), complementing a study previously reported for insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) in similar populations. Serum concentrations of IGFBPs-1 to -3 were assayed by Western ligand blot and their mRNA expression in the liver assayed by RNase protection assay in the hypothyroid populations: thyroidectomized and mercapto-1-methylimidazole (MMI)-treated neonates, and thyroidectomized adult rats at different periods after thyroidectomy. Serum concentrations of insulin, GH and IGF-I were increased in thyroidectomized neonates and decreased in the other populations. IGFBPs-1 and -2 increased 79% and 50% respectively in thyroidectomized neonatal rats compared with control at 15 days after thyroidectomy, whereas only IGFBP-2 increased (87%) in MMI-treated neonates, which had low serum insulin and GH compared with control on the same days. In thyroidectomized adult rats, IGFBPs-1 and -2 decreased 60% compared with controls on all days studied. Furthermore, when streptozotocin was administered to thyroidectomized neonates and insulin was given to thyroidectomized adult rats to restore insulin to control values in both groups, a differential regulation was found for IGFBPs-1 and -2. The transcriptionally induced decrease in IGFBP-3 (20-25% compared with control in neonates and 50% in adult rats), however, seemed to be regulated by GH and IGF-I. The similarity of changes in IGFBPs found in hypothyroid, undernourished and streptozotocin-induced diabetic neonatal rats suggests that the regulatory effect of insulin or GH on the IGFBPs requires the reduced biologically active thyroid hormone that is found in these three populations.