Effects of starvation on thyroid function were studied in 5- to 6-week-old (R x U) F1 rats. Starvation lowered plasma TSH in female, but not in male rats. Plasma T4 and T3 levels decreased, whereas the dialysable T4 fraction increased during starvation. Free T4 (FT4) levels decreased rapidly in females, but only after prolonged fasting in male rats. Glucose decreased, and free fatty acid levels increased during starvation. Peripheral TRH levels did not change during food deprivation. Since effects of starvation were most apparent in young female rats, such rats were used to study hypothalamic TRH release during starvation and subsequent refeeding. Basal in vitro hypothalamic TRH secretion was less in starved rats than in control or refed animals. In vitro hypothalamic TRH release in medium with 56 mM KCl increased 3-fold compared to basal release, and in these depolarization conditions TRH release was similar between hypothalami from control, starved and refed rats. In rats starved for 2 days, TRH level in hypophysial portal blood was lower than that of controls. Thus, diminished thyroid function during starvation may at least in part be caused by a reduced hypothalamic TRH release.