The present study compared leucine kinetics and acute-phase-protein concentrations in three groups of marasmic, acutely infected Malawian children fed one of three isoenergetic diets. These were: an enhanced-protein-quality diet (egg-white+tryptophan, providing 1.2 g protein/kg per d; n 14); an increased-protein-content diet (egg-white+tryptophan, providing 1·8 g protein/kg per d; n 14); a standard-protein diet (1·2 g milk protein/kg per d; n 25). The hypotheses tested were that children receiving a diet with more protein would have greater rates of non-oxidative leucine disposal and that children receiving an isonitrogenous diet with a higher protein quality would have lower rates of leucine oxidation. The children were studied after 24 h of therapy using standard [13C]leucine stable-isotope tracer techniques. The children receiving the higher-protein-content diet had greater leucine kinetic rates than those receiving the standard-protein-content diet; non-oxidative leucine disposal was 170 (SD 52) v. 122 (SD 30) μmol leucine/kg per h (P<0·01). Leucine oxidation was less in the children receiving the enhanced-protein-quality diet than in those receiving the standard-protein-quality diet; 34 (SD 12) v. 45 (SD 13) μmol leucine/kg per h (P<0·05). The children receiving the high-protein-content diet increased their serum concentration for five of six acute-phase proteins 24 h after starting therapy, while those receiving the standard-protein-content diet did not. These data suggest that there was greater whole-body protein synthesis, and a more vigorous acute-phase response associated with the higher-protein-content diet. The clinical benefits associated with a higher protein intake in marasmic, acutely infected children need further study.