We measured immunoreactive somatomedin C/insulinlike growth factor I (Sm C/IGF I) in blood and tissues of rats following partial hepatectomy (PH) to determine a possible regulatory role for this growth factor in liver regeneration. From a mean value of 0.66 U/ml +/- 0.19 before PH, the serum Sm C/IGF I rose to 1.09 +/- 0.08 1 h after PH [P less than 0.001 vs. sham-hepatectomized (SH) values]. Concurrently there was a twofold rise in serum aspartate aminotransferase, suggesting that the rise in Sm C/IGF I may be the result of hepatocellular injury rather than a specific secretory event. In the subsequent 22 h, serum Sm C/IGF I of PH rats fell to 0.31 +/- 0.06 U/ml, compared with 0.73 +/- 0.03 in SH rats. During this time, liver concentrations of the peptide declined to 30% of basal, whereas lung and kidney fell to only approximately 60% of basal. As the Sm C/IGF I declined, hepatic DNA synthesis increased 10-fold in PH animals. Our results, therefore, do not support a mitogenic role for Sm C/IGF I in the regulation of liver regulation. Food consumption was markedly depressed in the 22 h after PH (20.8 +/- 2.6 vs. 4.33 +/- 2.9 g/day; P less than 0.001). PH and pair-fed SH rats had serum Sm C/IGF I concentrations that were indistinguishable (0.31 +/- 0.06 vs. 0.35 +/- 0.11 U/ml), although liver tissue concentrations were lower in PH rats (0.04 +/- 0.01 U/g vs. 0.07 +/- 0.02).(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)