Changes in tissue protein synthesis and an associated membrane transport system in rats were investigated during lactation and under conditions of dietary protein restriction. Following mating, female Sprague-Dawley rats (second parity) were caged individually and offered a high-protein diet (H; 215 g crude protein (N × 6.25; CP)/kg dry matter (DM)) ad lib. until day 12 of gestation. Subsequently half continued to receive diet H, whilst the remainder were offered a low-protein diet (L; 65 g CP/kg DM) until parturition. On day 1 of lactation females were then allocated to either diet H or another low-protein diet (L2; 90 g CP/kg DM) which were offered ad lib. until day 13 of lactation, giving four lactation groups HH, LH, HL2 and LL2. On days 1 and 13 of lactation groups of females were used in the estimation of tissue protein synthesis (flooding dose of [3H] phenylalanine) and Na+, K+-ATPase (EC 188.8.131.52) activity (polarographically) in skeletal muscle, mammary gland, liver and duodenal mucosa. By day 1 of lactation diet L had reduced fractional and absolute synthesis rates (FSR and ASR) of muscle protein (P < 0.05) and the O2 consumption associated with Na+,K+-ATPase, although not significantly (P < 0.10). Rates of protein synthesis in the other tissues studied were not affected on day 1 of lactation by the gestation dietary treatment. By day 13 of lactation the feeding of diet L2 had reduced muscle FSR and ASR of group HL2 to rates that were lower than those on day 1 (P < 0.05), comparable to those of group LL2 and lower than those of groups HH and LH (P < 0.05). Diet H had allowed group LH to increase their muscle protein synthesis compared with that on day 1 (P < 0.05). Muscle Na+,K+-ATPase activity on day 13 of lactation was also lower in groups offered diet L2 (P < 0.05). Mammary protein synthesis was increased during lactation with the feeding of diet H (P < 0.05), which was prevented by diet L2 such that rates of groups HL2 and LL2 were lower than those of the two high-protein groups on day 13 (P < 0.01). Mammary respiration and in particular Na+,K+-ATPase activity was increased during lactation by the feeding of diet H (P < 0.05). Rates of protein synthesis and respiration in liver and duodenal mucosa were not significantly affected by the gestational or lactational dietary treatments. Calculated rates of muscle protein degradation suggest that whilst the loss of muscle protein in group HL2 during lactation might have been promoted by the decline in synthesis, the increase in degradation may have been quantitatively more important.