Maternal malnutrition can lead to fetal abnormalities and increase susceptibility to disease in later life. Rat models have been developed to study the physiology and metabolism underlying this phenomenon. One particular model of 50% protein restriction during pregnancy, the low-protein diet (LPD) supplemented with methionine, has been developed to investigate the underlying mechanisms. Recent studies have shown that rats fed a LPD during only the first 4 d of pregnancy produce offspring that develop hypertension. These results suggest that the very earliest stages of embryo development are susceptible to diet-induced heritable changes. We demonstrate a marked elevation of maternal serum homocysteine (hcy) concentrations during the initial phases of pregnancy in both rats and mice fed an LPD. Fetal growth and many of the circulating amino acids are similarly perturbed in both rats and mice fed the LPD during pregnancy, indicating that the response to the LPD diet is similar in rats and mice. These findings allow us to exploit the advantages of the mouse experimental system in future analyses aimed at understanding the molecular basis of fetal programming. Our present findings are discussed with particular reference to mechanisms which may initiate fetal programming, and to the feasibility of dietary interventions aimed at reducing early pregnancy loss and pre-eclampsia in man.