GH secretagogues are an expanding class of synthetic peptide and nonpeptide molecules that stimulate the pituitary gland to secrete GH through their own specific receptor, the GH-secretagogue receptor. The cloning of the receptor for these nonclassical GH releasing molecules, together with the more recent characterization of an endogenous ligand, named ghrelin, have unambiguously demonstrated the existence of a physiological system that regulates GH secretion. Somatotroph cell-specific expression of the GH gene is dependent on a pituitary-specific transcription factor (Pit-1). This factor is transcribed in a highly restricted manner in the anterior pituitary gland. The present experiments sought to determine whether the synthetic hexapeptide GHRP-6, a reference GH secretagogue compound, as well as an endogenous ligand, ghrelin, regulate pit-1 expression. By a combination of Northern and Western blot analysis we found that GHRP-6 elicits a time- and dose-dependent activation of pit-1 expression in monolayer cultures of infant rat anterior pituitary cells. This effect was blocked by pretreatment with actinomycin D, but not by cycloheximide, suggesting that this action was due to direct transcriptional activation of pit-1. Using an established cell line (HEK293-GHS-R) that overexpresses the GH secretagogue receptor, we showed a marked stimulatory effect of GHRP-6 on the pit-1 -2,500 bp 5'-region driving luciferase expression. We truncated the responsive region to -231 bp, a sequence that contains two CREs, and found that both CREs are needed for GHRP-6-induced transcriptional activation in both HEK293-GHS-R cells and infant rat anterior pituitary primary cultures. The effect was dependent on PKC, MAPK kinase, and PKA activation. Increasing Pit-1 by coexpression of pCMV-pit-1 potentiated the GHRP-6 effect on the pit-1 promoter. Similarly, we showed that the endogenous GH secretagogue receptor ligand ghrelin exerts a similar effect on the pit-1 promoter. These data provide the first evidence that ghrelin, in addition to its previously reported GH-releasing activities, is also capable of regulating pit-1 transcription through the GH secretagogue receptor in the pituitary, thus giving new insights into the physiological role of the GH secretagogue receptor on somatotroph cell differentiation and function.