Adipose tissue of mice bearing a cachexia-inducing murine tumour (MAC16) shows increased expression of zinc-alpha(2)-glycoprotein (ZAG), a lipolytic factor thought to be responsible for the increased lipolysis. The anti-cachectic agent eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) (0.5 g/kg) attenuated the loss of body weight in mice bearing the MAC16 tumour, and this was accompanied by downregulation of ZAG expression in both white and brown adipose tissue, as determined by Western blotting. Glucocorticoids may be responsible for the increased ZAG expression in adipose tissue. Dexamethasone (1.68 microM) stimulated lipolysis in 3T3-L1 adipocytes, and this effect was attenuated by EPA (50 microM). In addition the lipolytic action of dexamethasone was attenuated by anti-ZAG antibody, suggesting that the induction of lipolysis was mediated through an increase in ZAG expression. This was confirmed by Western blotting, which showed that dexamethasone (1.68 microM) induced a two-fold increase in ZAG expression in both cells and media, and that this was attenuated by EPA (50 microM). These results suggest that EPA may preserve adipose tissue in cachectic mice by downregulation of ZAG expression through interference with glucocorticoid signalling.