We previously demonstrated that the development of cultured rat pre-antral follicles is stimulated by growth hormone (GH) and insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) and that the mRNA of IGF-I and type I IGF receptor (IGFR) is present in the oocyte and wall of these follicles. To gain a closer insight into the regulation of early folliculogenesis by GH and IGF-I, the present study investigated the gene expression of GH and GHR mRNA in isolated oocytes and follicular wall cells of pre-antral follicles, using reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction, and the localisation of immunoreactive IGF-I, IGFR, GH and GHR proteins in ovarian sections of 10-day-old rats. GH was detected in oocytes and follicular wall tissue of pre-antral follicles, whereas expression of the GH mRNA was absent. The GHR mRNA was present in follicular wall tissue and not in the oocyte, while positive immunostaining for GHR was observed in all cells of the pre-antral follicles. Immunoreactive IGF-I and IGFR was also visible in the pre-antral follicles, especially in the oocytes. In conclusion, the data show that the previously demonstrated local gene expression of IGF-I and IGFR in oocytes and their enveloping follicular cells also leads to translation, which points to the involvement of intrafollicular IGF-I in early follicular development. The presence of the GHR mRNA and the GHR and GH proteins in pre-antral follicles in the absence of ovarian GH mRNA suggest a direct effect of systemic GH on early follicular development.