Male C3H mice were fed a diet containing 2% squalene for 14 d prior to and 30 d subsequent to exposure to 6, 7 or 8 Gy of whole body gamma-irradiation (Cesium-137). After 14 d on squalene-supplemented diet, plasma and jejunal tissue squalene levels were 2X and 15X that of controls. Seven days after irradiation, total white cell counts and total lymphocyte counts were substantially depressed in a radiation dose-dependent manner. Although counts in the squalene group were consistently (18-119%) higher than those in the corresponding dietary control group, the differences between dietary groups at any single dose were not significant. Nuclear area of villus cells in the jejunum of both dietary groups was significantly reduced (20%) by day 11 post-irradiation but the nuclear area in squalene-fed mice was significantly greater (15%) than in controls, before and after irradiation. There were no differences in body weight as a function of either diet or radiation dose prior to the first observations of animal lethality. Animal survival was decreased from 100 to 0% at 30 d post-irradiation by radiation doses of 6-8 Gy, with the greatest difference between dietary groups being observed at 7 Gy (median survival times of 12 and 16 d for control and squalene groups, respectively). Overall, survival of squalene-fed mice was significantly prolonged compared with control-fed mice (P = 0.0054 by censored multiple regression analysis). It is concluded that squalene conferred some cellular and systemic radioprotection to mice receiving these lethal whole-body radiation doses.