The effect of the Maillard browning reaction in the diet of rainbow trout (Salmo gairdneri) on growth and amino acid availability was investigated. Chemical and enzymatic hydrolysis methods were applied for the detection of the losses of amino acids in a model protein browning system. Arginine and lysine exhibited the greatest losses in the mixture of fish protein isolate and glucose stored for 40 d at 37 degrees C. The apparent digestibility and absorption of individual amino acids, particularly lysine, was lower in trout fed browned protein than in those fed the control protein. Plasma lysine levels were significantly depressed, while the plasma levels of glucose and most other amino acids were elevated in relation to the loss in nutritive value of dietary protein after browning. The early Maillard reaction derivative of lysine, epsilon-deoxy-fructosyl-lysine, was recovered from browned protein (by using the in vitro enzymatic hydrolysis procedure) and from the plasma of trout fed browned protein. Analysis of plasma free amino acids provided an indication of lysine bioavailability and identified lysine as the first-limiting amino acid in the diets containing browned protein.