One of the observations in malnutrition is that serum insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-I levels are decreased, and this decrease is associated with an altered profile of IGF binding proteins (IGFBPs). In human circulation, IGFs are mostly present as an approximately 150-kDa ternary protein complex consisting of IGFs, IGFBP-3, and acid-labile subunit (ALS). In the present study, to clarify the effect of nutrition on serum ALS levels, we investigated 33 patients with anorexia nervosa. Serum levels of ALS were measured by RIA. Furthermore, we measured serum IGF-I, IGF-II, IGFBP-2, and IGFBP-3 levels in the patients. From these data, we investigated which was the best predictor of body mass index (BMI) as a nutritional status marker. In the patients with anorexia nervosa, the serum ALS levels ranged from 0.7-16.9, with a mean of 10.6 +/- 0.7 mg/L, and the levels were significantly lower than those of normal subjects (13.8 +/- 0.8 mg/L, P < 0.05). Serum ALS levels positively correlated with BMI (r = 0.41, P < 0.05), and the levels increased during treatment. The serum IGFBP-2 levels in the patients were increased (871 +/- 91 microg/L), and the levels inversely correlated with BMI (r = -0.52, P < 0.01). The serum IGF-I and IGFBP-3 levels were low (152 +/- 14 microg/L and 2.56 +/- 0.12 mg/L, respectively), and the levels positively correlated with BMI (r = 0.46, P < 0.01; and r = 0.39, P < 0.05, respectively). The serum IGFBP-2, IGF-I, and IGFBP-3 levels returned toward normal ranges as BMI in the patients improved during treatment. Serum IGF-II levels did not correlate with BMI (r = 0.24, P = 0.17). Stepwise regression analysis revealed that serum IGFBP-2 was the best marker of BMI among these variables. The present study suggested that ALS was regulated by nutritional status, the same as IGF-I, IGFBP-2 and IGFBP-3; but the serum IGFBP-2 was the best predictor of BMI as nutritional status marker among the parameters in patients with anorexia nervosa.