Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) is an anabolic hormone in postnatal life and may be an important endocrine regulator of fetal growth. However, its effects on fetal metabolism in vivo have not previously been determined. We studied the effect of 50 micrograms/h.kg IGF-1 infusion in 12 chronically catheterized fetal sheep. Fetal blood amino nitrogen concentrations fell 10% and maternal 7%, consistent with a rise in feto-placental amino acid uptake. Fetal amino acid oxidation, measured by fetal urea production fell by 30% (44.4 +/- 10.5 to 30.9 +/- 8.0 mumol/min). Fetal and maternal blood glucose concentrations both fell by 0.1 mM, consistent with increased feto-placental glucose uptake. Placental lactate production fell 30% (114 +/- 15 to 78 +/- 11 mumol/min), as did fetal and uterine lactate uptake. There was no change in umbilical or uterine blood flows, nor in placental transfer by simple or facilitated diffusion. We conclude that IGF-1 has anabolic effects on feto-placental protein and carbohydrate metabolism. Circulating IGF-1 may in part mediate the regulation of fetal growth in response to fetal nutrient supply.