Animal tissues are naturally 15N enriched relative to their diet and the extent of this difference (Δ15Nanimal-diet) has been correlated to the efficiency of N assimilation in different species. The rationale is that transamination and deamination enzymes, involved in amino acid metabolism are likely to preferentially convert amino groups containing 14N over 15N. However, in ruminants the contribution of rumen bacterial metabolism relative to animal tissues metabolism to naturally enrich animal proteins in terms of 15N has been not assessed yet. The objective of this study was to assess the impact of rumen and digestion processes on the relationship between Δ15Nanimal-diet and efficiency of N utilization for milk protein yield (milk N efficiency (MNE); milk N yield/N intake) as well as the relationship between the 15N natural abundance of rumen bacteria and the efficiency of N use at the rumen level. Solid- and liquid-associated rumen bacteria, duodenal digesta, feces and plasma proteins were obtained (n=16) from four lactating Holstein cows fed four different diets formulated at two metabolizable protein supplies (80% v. 110% of protein requirements) crossed by two different dietary energy source (diets rich in starch v. fiber). We measured the isotopic N fractionation between animal and diet (Δ15Nanimal-diet) in these different body pools. The Δ15Nanimal-diet was negatively correlated with MNE when measured in solid-associated rumen bacteria, duodenal digesta, feces and plasma proteins, with the strongest correlation found for the latter. However, our results showed a very weak 15N enrichment of duodenal digesta (Δ15Nduodenal digesta-diet mean value=0.42) compared with that observed in plasma proteins (Δ15Nplasma protein-diet mean value=2.41). These data support the idea that most of the isotopic N fractionation observed in ruminant proteins (Δ15Nplasma protein-diet) has a metabolic origin with very little direct impact of the overall digestion process on the existing relationship between Δ15Nplasma protein-diet and MNE. The 15N natural abundance of rumen bacteria was not related to either rumen N efficiency (microbial N/available N) or digestive N efficiency (metabolizable protein supply/CP intake), but showing a modest positive correlation with rumen ammonia concentration. When using diets not exceeding recommended protein levels, the contribution of rumen bacteria and digestion to the isotopic N fractionation between animal proteins and diet is low. In our conditions, most of the isotopic N fractionation (Δ15Nplasma protein-diet) could have a metabolic origin, but more studies are warranted to confirm this point with different diets and approaches.