Cancer cachexia is characterized by skeletal muscle wasting that is mainly supported by hypercatabolism. Muscle atrophy has been suggested to depend on impaired IGF-1 signal transduction pathway. The present study has been aimed at investigating the IGF-1 system in rats bearing the AH-130 hepatoma, a well-characterized model of cachexia. IGF-1 mRNA expression in the gastrocnemius of tumor hosts progressively decreases to approximately 50% of controls. By contrast, both IGF-1 receptor and insulin receptor mRNA levels increase in day 7 AH-130 hosts. IGF-1 and insulin circulating levels, as well as IGF-1 expression in the liver, are reduced. Muscle wasting in the AH-130 bearers is associated with hyperactivation of the ubiquitin-proteasome system. Consistently, the mRNA levels of ubiquitin and of the ubiquitin ligases atrogin-1 and MuRF1 are significantly increased in the gastrocnemius of day 7 AH-130 hosts. Exogenous IGF-1 administered to tumor bearers does not prevent cachexia. IGF-1 mRNA levels also have been evaluated in the gastrocnemius of AH-130 hosts treated with pentoxifylline, an inhibitor of TNF-alpha synthesis, alone or combined with formoterol, a beta(2)-adrenergic agonist. Both treatments partially correct muscle atrophy without modifying IGF-1 and atrogin-1 mRNA levels, whereas MuRF1 hyperexpression is reduced by the combination of pentoxifylline with formoterol. These results demonstrate for the first time that the IGF-1 system is downregulated in cancer cachexia, although the underlying mechanism remains unknown. Moreover, no simple relation linking IGF-1 and/or atrogin-1 mRNA levels and muscle atrophy could be observed in these experimental conditions. Further studies are thus needed to clarify both issues.