In order to find out if inefficient transport of amino acids contributes to a decrease in fetal weight during maternal malnutrition, we injected [14C]- and [3H]-labelled aminoisobutyric acid (AIB), respectively, in the mother and its fetuses and determined its transplacental kinetics on day 20 of gestation in rats fed a 21 per cent (control) or a low (5 per cent) protein diet. Rats fed a low protein diet consumed significantly less food than did the rats fed a control diet and thus suffered from protein-calorie malnutrition. A low protein diet led to a significant (P less than 0.05) decrease in maternal and fetal volume of distribution of AIB, a decrease in the clearance of AIB from the mother to the fetus and an increase in the time required for the fetal plasma AIB concentration following maternal injection to exceed the maternal plasma AIB concentration. The clearance of AIB from the fetus into the mother or to outside (e.g. amniotic fluid) was not altered by protein deficiency. It is concluded that a decrease in the efficiency of the placenta to deliver amino acids to the fetus may be a contributing factor in fetal growth retardation during maternal protein malnutrition.