A single injection of endotoxin (1 mg/kg, sc) in rats caused significant fever, body weight loss and reduction in gastrocnemius muscle mass, none of which was mimicked by pair-feeding. Infusion of endotoxin via osmotic minipump over five days caused transient fever and suppression of growth. Recovery of body weight was significantly enhanced by the administration of the beta 2-adrenoceptor agonist clenbuterol (added to the diet at 4 mg/kg). In a separate experiment, injections of endotoxin (day 0 and day 2) caused significant reductions in body weight gain (42%), mass (9%) and protein content (13%) of gastrocnemius muscle over 3 days. Addition of clenbuterol to the diet reversed all of these effects but did not alter food intake or the febrile response to endotoxin. Clenbuterol caused large (20%) increases in the ratio of RNA to protein in muscle indicating that it may have stimulated protein synthesis. beta 2-adrenoceptor agonists may therefore be of value in preventing or inhibiting muscle atrophy associated with infection or injury.