Serum concentrations of insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) and IGF-binding protein-1 (IGFBP-1), -2, and -3 are influenced by dietary intake in normal adults. These studies were undertaken to determine the influence of dietary factors on these proteins in children and to compare the responses in children to those in adults. Eight adults and eight pubertal children underwent energy restriction (50% reduction intake) for 6 days and were refed a normal diet for an additional 6 days. Basal energy intakes during the prerestriction periods were 70 Cal/kg in children and 35 Cal/kg in adults. A second group of 8 adults and 6 children underwent protein restriction (decreased from 1.0 to 0.66 g/kg in both groups) for 6 days and were refed a normal diet for 6 days. Calorie restriction resulted in a significant decrease in nitrogen balance in adults and children. Likewise, IGF-I concentrations declined significantly in both adults and children. In contrast, IGFBP-1 concentrations were significantly increased in adults (from 40 +/- 6 to 62 +/- 4 ng/mL; P < 0.05), but not in children. Serum concentrations of IGFBP-2 did not change in either group in response to energy restriction. IGFBP-3 declined significantly in the children (3189 +/- 90 to 2843 +/- 96 ng/mL; P < 0.05), but not in the adults. Protein restriction also caused negative nitrogen balance in both children and adults and a decline in the mean IGF-I concentration in the adults. IGFBP-2 concentrations rose significantly in both adults (131 +/- 15 to 164 +/- 15 ng/mL; P < 0.005) and children (126 +/- 13 to 158 +/- 15 ng/mL; P < 0.05) in response to protein restriction and returned to normal during refeeding. IGFBP-3 was slightly, but significantly, reduced in response to protein restriction in adults (3518 +/- 180 to 3328 +/- 151 ng/mL; P < 0.05), but not children. The findings indicate that protein or energy restriction in children leads to changes in IGF-I or specific IGFBPs. Changes in IGFBP-2 are sensitive to protein restriction, and measurement of IGFBP-2 may be useful in monitoring the response to refeeding in children who have been ingesting suboptimal amounts of protein.