Cultured 3T3-F442A preadipocytes are able to undergo GH-promoted differentiation into adipocytes. The relationship between the structure and function of GH receptors on 3T3 cells (3T3-F442A preadipocytes, differentiated adipocytes and 3T3-C2 cells, which vary in susceptibility to adipose conversion or with respect to carbohydrate and lipid metabolism) was studied by the covalent cross-linking of 125I-labelled human (h) GH to intact cells with the bifunctional reagent disuccinimidyl suberate. When preadipocytes were cross-linked and analysed using sodium dodecylsulphate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, a prominent 125I-labelled hGH-receptor complex of Mr 130 000 was observed along with minor complexes (Mr 300 000, 230 000 and 60 000) on autoradiography. Non-reducing—reducing two-dimensional gel electrophoresis revealed that the higher molecular weight complexes also contained the Mr 130 000 complex. Neuraminidase and tunicamycin treatment demonstrated that the GH receptor on F442A preadipocytes is a sialo-glycoprotein with N-linked carbohydrate chains. When the differentiated 3T3-F442A adipocytes and 3T3-C2 cells (a sub-line with no susceptibility to adipose conversion with GH) were examined in the same way as 3T3-F442A preadipocytes, no differences were observed in the specificity of GH binding and in the molecular size of the 125I-labelled hGH-receptor complexes and their glycosylation characteristics. This suggests that the structural characteristics of the GH receptor are closely related in each cell type, but that the hormonal signals produced after GH binding to the receptor may cause different effects according to the cell type.