It is known that the somatomedins exist in human serum complexed to specific binding proteins. The existence of unbound somatomedins in serum has never unequivocally been demonstrated. We have characterized the distribution of insulin-like growth factor (IGF) I in different fractions after gel filtration of serum through Sephadex G-200 in neutral buffer. IGF-I was measured by RIA after acid extraction. Seventy-two percent of serum IGF-I was associated with large complexes with an estimated size of about 150,000 daltons and 25% was associated with smaller complexes of about 50,000 daltons. No unbound IGF-I was detected. Ultracentrifugation of 10 ml fresh serum was carried out at 106,000 × g for 17 h, after which the tube was aspirated in 1-ml fractions beginning at the top. IGF-I by RIA in fractions 2 and 3 sedimented with albumin; in fractions 4 to 7, the sedimentation pattern approached that of immunoglobulin G. This shift is consistent with the size distribution of IGF-I complexes demonstrated by gel filtration. The failure to find any significant increase in the concentration of IGF-I relative to albumin in the top 30% of the tube (fractions 1-3) after centrifugation argues against the presence of measurable free IGF-I in these fractions. The ability of upper fractions to bind added [125I]IGF-II proved to closely approximate the binding of the initial serum, indicating little sedimentation of the accessible binding protein. The relative binding of [125I]IGF-II by serum aliquots proved to be markedly concentration dependent. At concentrations above 5% serum, the incremental increase of binding as a function of serum concentration was much reduced. We interpret this to indicate that with dilution there is a dissociation of complexes and an increase in accessible binding sites. This phenomenon may modify tissue delivery of somatomedins in interstitial fluid. The data suggest that in undiluted serum there is no significant concentration of free somatomedins but at the dilution of serum that exists in the interstitial fluid, dissociation of bound somatomedins may be facilitated.