The relationships of N input or protein status and the concentrations of serum insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), plasma fibronectin (FN) and total protein (TP) were examined in three experiments with steers and sheep nourished by intragastric infusion of nutrients. In Expt 1, three steers (340 kg live weight) were infused with three levels of volatile fatty acids (0, 300 and 600 kJ/kg metabolic weight (W0.75) per d) and six levels of casein (0, 200, 400, 650, 1500 and 2500 mg N/kg W0.75 per d). Each N treatment was imposed for 5 d. In Expts 2 and 3, five groups of sheep (about 35 kg live weight) were infused with casein at 500 mg N/kg W0.75 per d for 2 weeks followed by 1500, 500 or 50 mg N/kg W0.75 per d in Expt 2, and in Expt 3, with 100 mg N/kg W0.75 per d for 6 weeks or 10 mg N/kg W0.75 per d for 4 weeks. Non-protein energy was maintained constant at 500 kJ/kg W0.75 per d throughout. Daily N balance and total body N content at the end were measured, and protein status was defined as a percentage of cumulative N accretion or depletion in relation to the total body N content at maintenance. It was found that IGF-1 and FN responded rapidly and substantially to altered N input, and that when daily N input was maintained constantly at sub-maintenance, their continuous declines were related closely to progressive protein depletion in the sheep. Plasma TP concentration was independent of N input when N input was altered acutely in the steers, but declined significantly and gradually with severe, chronic body protein depletion in the sheep. Plasma content of TP in the sheep however reduced acutely with a reduction in N input. Plasma volume fell substantially over the first 2 weeks of protein depletion, compensating for the declines in TP content and maintaining TP concentration plateau. The possible implications of the changes in TP concentration and content (concentration x volume) to body protein loss in sheep are discussed.