Inhibitors of the insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) receptor have been widely studied for their ability to enhance the killing of a variety of malignant cells, but whether IGF-I signaling differentially protects the host and cancer cells against chemotherapy is unknown. Starvation can protect mice, but not cancer cells, against high-dose chemotherapy [differential stress resistance (DSR)]. Here, we offer evidence that IGF-I reduction mediates part of the starvation-dependent DSR. A 72-hour fast in mice reduced circulating IGF-I by 70% and increased the level of the IGF-I inhibitor IGFBP-1 by 11-fold. LID mice, with a 70% to 80% reduction in circulating IGF-I levels, were protected against three of four chemotherapy drugs tested. Restoration of IGF-I was sufficient to reverse the protective effect of fasting. Sixty percent of melanoma-bearing LID mice treated with doxorubicin achieved long-term survival whereas all control mice died of either metastases or chemotherapy toxicity. Reducing IGF-I/IGF-I signaling protected primary glia, but not glioma cells, against cyclophosphamide and protected mouse embryonic fibroblasts against doxorubicin. Further, S. cerevisiae lacking homologs of IGF-I signaling proteins were protected against chemotherapy-dependent DNA damage in a manner that could be reversed by expressing a constitutively active form of Ras. We conclude that normal cells and mice can be protected against chemotherapy-dependent damage by reducing circulating IGF-I levels and by a mechanism that involves downregulation of proto-oncogene signals.