Chronic metabolic acidosis has been previously shown to stimulate protein degradation. To evaluate the effects of chronic metabolic acidosis on nitrogen balance and protein synthesis we measured albumin synthesis rates and urinary nitrogen excretion in eight male subjects on a constant metabolic diet before and during two different degrees of chronic metabolic acidosis (NH4Cl 2.1 mmol/kg body weight, low dose group, and 4.2 mmol/kg body weight, high dose group, orally for 7 d). Albumin synthesis rates were measured by intravenous injection of [2H5ring]phenylalanine (43 mg/kg body weight, 7.5 atom percent and 15 atom percent, respectively) after an overnight fast. In the low dose group, fractional synthesis rates of albumin decreased from 9.9 +/- 1.0% per day in the control period to 8.4 +/- 0.7 (n.s.) in the acidosis period, and from 8.3 +/- 1.3% per day to 6.3 +/- 1.1 (P < 0.001) in the high dose group. Urinary nitrogen excretion increased significantly in the acidosis period (sigma delta 634 mmol in the low dose group, 2,554 mmol in the high dose group). Plasma concentrations of insulin-like growth factor-I, free thyroxine and tri-iodothyronine were significantly lower during acidosis. In conclusion, chronic metabolic acidosis causes negative nitrogen balance and decreases albumin synthesis in humans. The effect on albumin synthesis may be mediated, at least in part, by a suppression of insulin-like growth factor-I, free thyroxine and tri-iodothyronine.