1. The aim of this study was to describe the time course of the response of human muscle protein synthesis (MPS) to a square wave increase in availability of amino acids (AAs) in plasma. We investigated the responses of quadriceps MPS to a approximately 1.7-fold increase in plasma AA concentrations using an intravenous infusion of 162 mg (kg body weight)(-1) h(-1) of mixed AAs. MPS was estimated from D3-leucine labelling in protein after a primed, constant intravenous infusion of D3-ketoisocaproate, increased appropriately during AA infusion. 2. Muscle was separated into myofibrillar, sarcoplasmic and mitochondrial fractions. MPS, both of mixed muscle and of fractions, was estimated during a basal period (2.5 h) and at 0.5-4 h intervals for 6 h of AA infusion. 3. Rates of mixed MPS were not significantly different from basal (0.076 +/- 0.008 % h(-1)) in the first 0.5 h of AA infusion but then rose rapidly to a peak after 2 h of approximately 2.8 times the basal value. Thereafter, rates declined rapidly to the basal value. All muscle fractions showed a similar pattern. 4. The results suggest that MPS responds rapidly to increased availability of AAs but is then inhibited, despite continued AA availability. These results suggest that the fed state accretion of muscle protein may be limited by a metabolic mechanism whenever the requirement for substrate for protein synthesis is exceeded.