1. Changes in total retinol-binding protein (RBP), the holoprotein (holoRBP) and prealbumin (PA) concentrations have been monitored in plasma of thirty protein- and vitamin A-deficient preschool children from within a few hours up to 7 weeks after treatment with retinol and a good-quality protein diet.
2. The children were classified into groups according to nutritional status as having either kwashiorkor, marasmus-kwashiorkor or marasmus, and given formula diets whose protein and energy contents increased stepwise from 1 g and 105 kJ/kg body-weight respectively up to 4 g and 733 kJ/kg body-weight after 4 weeks. Retinol was administered in the forms of retinyl palmitate either orally or intramuscularly.
3. PA and total RBP were determined by electroimmunoassay procedures and the holoRBP by its fluorescence after separation from other plasma proteins.
4. RBP in plasma of the vitamin A-deficient child is largely denatured and incapable of binding administered retinol, which must first be taken up by the liver before native holoRBP is released. An increased pool of native apoprotein accumulates in the liver during vitamin A deficiency which is released into plasma quickly after retinol uptake to form peak concentrations of total and holoRBP approximately 3 h after dosing intramuscularly and 6 h orally.
5. The accumulated pool of RBP was highest in livers from the marasmus group and lowest in those from the kwashiorkor group, reflecting their relative capacities to synthesize plasma proteins.
6. The mean plasma concentrations of total and holoRBP for the various groups were minimal 24–48 h after dosing with retinol and then improved almost linearly over the following week.
7. Mean plasma PA concentrations of the various groups on admission were also in order of the severity of their malnutrition. There was little or no change in this protein concentration over the first 24 h after dosing with retinol, but thereafter the mean values rose almost linearly over 2 weeks. Albumin on the other hand changed little during the first week. The results show that PA is the more sensitive measurement of protein nutritional status.