The effect of a proteolysis-inducing factor (PIF), produced by cachexia-inducing tumours on glucose utilization by different tissues and the effect of pretreatment with the polyunsaturated fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), has been determined using the 2-deoxyglucose tracer technique. Mice receiving PIF showed a profound depression of body weight (2.3 g) over a 24-h period, which was completely abolished by pretreatment with a monoclonal antibody to PIF or by 3 days pretreatment with EPA at 500 mg kg(-1). Animals receiving PIF exhibited a marked hypoglycaemia, which was effectively reversed by both antibody and EPA pretreatment. There was an increase in glucose utilization by brain, heart and brown fat, but a decrease by kidney, white fat, diaphragm and gastrocnemius muscle after administration of PIF. Changes in organ glucose consumption were attenuated by either monoclonal antibody, EPA, or both. There was a decrease in 2-deoxyglucose uptake by C2C12 myoblasts in vitro, which was attenuated by EPA. This suggests a direct effect of PIF on glucose uptake by skeletal muscle. These results suggest that in addition to a direct catabolic effect on skeletal muscle PIF has a profound effect on glucose utilization during cachexia.