The heterotrimeric Gs protein–adenylyl cyclase (AC) cascade plays a pivotal role in controlling hormone secretion by endocrine glands. Consequently, deficiency of the alpha-subunit of Gs leads to endocrine hypofunction and hypoplasia in the affected cells whereas AC hyperactivity results from activating point mutations within the Gs-alpha gene. The latter, termed gsp oncogenes, are found primarily in a subset of growth hormone (GH) -secreting human pituitary tumours (somatotrophinomas) and are thus associated with excessive GH secretion. We present here evidence that another type of defect in human somatotrophinomas may be overexpression of the Gs-alpha subunit. Immunohistochemistry using an antibody against recombinant human Gs-alpha revealed high levels of expression in 25 of 39 somatotrophinomas but weak staining in normal human pituitary cells. These results were confirmed by Western blot analysis. Additionally, cholera toxin-mediated ADP-ribosylation in the presence of 32P-labelled NAD+ resulted in an autoradiographic signal intensity which correlated directly with magnitude of immunostaining and amount of antigen shown by Western blot analysis, providing evidence for overexpression of functionally active subunit. Finally, reconstitution assays were applied and directly demonstrated the increased activity of overexpressed Gs-alpha. In vivo, the effect of Gs-alpha on AC activity may be partially counterregulated by high levels of inhibitory G protein that also occurred in these tumours. In culture, GH-releasing hormone (GHRH) had markedly reduced effects on GH secretion by somatotrophinomas exhibiting Gs-alpha overexpression, whereas powerful stimulation occurred in weakly staining tumours. In contrast to these observations with Gs-alpha, immunostaining for the phospholipase C-coupled G11-alpha subunit was relatively weak in all somatotrophinomas studied and synthetic GH-releasing peptide, which acts via a specific G11-coupled receptor, led to powerful and consistent stimulation of GH secretion by different tumours. These results indicate that Gs-alpha overexpression is associated with dysfunction in hormone secretion by some somatotrophinomas.