Maternal protein deficiency causes fetal growth retardation which has been associated with the programming of adult disease. The growth of the rat fetus was examined when the mothers were fed on diets containing 180, 90 and 60 g protein/kg. The numbers of fetuses were similar in animals fed on the 180 and 90 g protein/kg diets but the number was significantly reduced in the animals fed on the 60 g protein/kg diet. The fetuses carried by the mothers fed on the 90 g protein/kg diet were 7·5% heavier than those of mothers fed on 180 g protein/kg diet on day 19 of gestation, but by day 21 the situation was reversed and the fetuses in the protein-deficient mothers were 14% smaller. Analysis of the free amino acids in the maternal serum showed that on day 19 the diets containing 90 and 60 g protein/kg led to threonine concentrations that were reduced to 46 and 20% of those found in animals fed on the control (180 g/kg) diet. The other essential amino acids were unchanged, except for a small decrease in the branched-chain amino acids in animals fed on the 60 g protein/kg diet. Both low-protein diets significantly increased the concentrations of glutamic acid+glutamine and glycine in the maternal serum. On day 21 the maternal serum threonine levels were still reduced by about one third in the group fed on the 90 g protein/kg diet. Dietary protein content had no effect on serum threonine concentrations in non-pregnant animals. Analysis of the total free amino acids in the fetuses on day 19 showed that feeding the mother on a low-protein diet did not change amino acid concentrations apart from a decrease in threonine concentrations to 45 and 26% of the control values at 90 and 60 g protein/kg respectively. The results suggest that threonine is of particular importance to the protein-deficient mother and her fetuses. Possible mechanisms for the decrease in free threonine in both mother and fetuses and the consequences of the change in amino acid metabolism are discussed.