1. Male rats were undernourished either during the geslational and suckling periods or for a period of time immediately following weaning. Some rats were killed at the end of the period of undernutrition; others were nutritionally rehabilitated for lengthy periods of time before examination. Two muscles, the extensor digitorum longus (EDL) and soleus (SOL) were studied from each rat. Histochemically-stained transverse sections of these muscles were used to determine total number of fibres, the fibre cross-sectional areas and the relative frequency of the various fibre types.
2. All rats killed immediately following undernutrition showed significant deficit sin body-weight, muscle weight and fibre cross-sectional area compared to age-matched controls.
3. Animals undernourished during gestation and suckling and then fed normally for 5 months showed persistent and significant deficits in body-weight, muscle weight and total fibre number. There were also significant deficits in mean fibre cross-sectional area of each fibre type except for red fibres in the EDL. No difference in the volume proportion of connective tissue was found.
4. Rats undernourished after weaning and then fed ad lib. for approximately 7 months had normal body-and muscle weights. Their muscles showed no significant differences in total fibre number, relative frequency of the various fibre types, fibre size or volume proportion of connective lissue.
5. These results indicate that, although the effects on rat skeletal muscle of a period of undernutrition after weaning can be rectified, undernutrition before weaning causes lasting deficits.