Intravenous administration of a single dose (20 micrograms) of recombinant tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF, cachectin) to rats decreased the rate of intestinal glucose absorption. In vivo, the oxidation of [U-14C]glucose to 14CO2 was significantly increased by the cytokine. In addition, [14C]lipid accumulation from [U-14C]glucose was increased both in liver and brown adipose tissue of the TNF-injected animals. The decrease observed in intestinal glucose absorption was not associated with changes in intestinal metabolism. There was no difference in glucose metabolism by isolated enterocytes from either control or TNF-injected rats whether in the absence or presence of different concentrations of the cytokine in the incubation medium. In contrast, tumour necrosis factor altered the rate of gastric emptying as measured by the gastrointestinal distribution of 3[H]inulin following an intragastric glucose load. These results suggest that the cytokine profoundly alters glucose metabolism by increasing its whole-body oxidation rate and delaying intestinal absorption through a reduced gastric emptying.