A quantitative analysis of the pituitary gland was conducted to ascertain the effects of protein-calorie malnutrition on the morphology of the somatotrophs, gonadotrophs, thyrotrophs, and corticotrophs. Male rats were fed a low, 8% protein diet from 20 to 50 days of age, while their age-matched controls were given a diet containing 27% protein. The hypophyses were then processed for light microscopic immunocytochemical staining using antibodies to growth hormone, the β subunits of luteinizing hormone and thyroid stimulating hormone, and adrenal corticotrophic hormone. The number of each cell type along with an evaluation of the cell, cytoplasmic, and nuclear areas was conducted using a computerized image analyzer. All of these parameters were reduced significantly in the somatotrophs as a result of the low protein diet, while in the gonadotrophs, the cell, cytoplasmic, and nuclear areas were similarly affected. Smaller cell number, cell area, and nuclear area were noted in the corticotrophs of the malnourished animals, while in the thyrotrophs, only the cell and nuclear areas were reduced. The data demonstrate that each pituitary cell type responds in a unique manner to undernutrition. © 1993 Wiley-Liss, Inc.