The insulin-like growth factor (IGF) system is altered with intra-uterine growth retardation and in adult metabolic disease. The aim of the present study was to observe effects of continued protein restriction on the IGF-I system and body composition in offspring of mothers fed a low-protein (LP) diet. Offspring from Wistar dams fed either a 20 % (CON) or 8 % (LP) protein diet during gestation and lactation were studied at birth, 10 d, weaning and at 12 weeks after maintenance on either the 8 % (lp) or 20 % (con) protein diet from weaning. LP offspring had reduced weaning weights (P < 0·05) and reduced serum insulin (P < 0·005). Serum IGF-I (P < 0·001) and acid-labile subunit (ALS) (P < 0·0001) were reduced at 10 and 21 d. Hepatic expression of IGF-I (P < 0·05) and ALS (P < 0·005) were reduced at 10 and 21 d. IGF binding protein (IGFBP)-1 hepatic expression was elevated at 10 d (P < 0·001) but not at 21 d. Adult LP-con offspring had reduced body weight (P < 0·05), lean (P < 0·0001) and bone (P < 0·0001) but not fat (P = 0·6) mass with no persistent effects on IGF-I, ALS and IGFBP-1.Postnatal lp feeding reduced lean mass (P < 0·0001) and bone mass (P < 0·0001) in CON and LP animals. Percentage fat (LP P = 0·04; CON P = 0·6) and IGFBP-1 (LP P = 0·01; CON P = 0·2) were increased in LP-lp but not CON-lp offspring. This suggests that postnatal nutrition is important in the effects of maternal protein restriction on adult body composition and that IGFBP-1 may be involved.