To compare the sensitivity of muscle protein synthesis to food intake in neonatal and weaned rats, 5- and 16-day-old suckled rats and 28-day-old weaned rats were either fed, fasted for 8-10 h, or refed for 1-4 h after an 8-h fast. Protein synthesis was measured in vivo in soleus and plantaris muscles with a large dose of L-[4-3H]phenylalanine. In fed rats, fractional rates of protein synthesis (KS) decreased with age. Fasting decreased KS, and refeeding increased KS most in 5-day-old animals, less in 16-day-old rats, and least in 28-day-old rats. In 5-day-old rats, there were no differences in KS between soleus and plantaris muscles in the fed state and after fasting and refeeding; at 28 days, KS was higher in soleus than in plantaris in fed rats, and the soleus did not respond to fasting and refeeding. In rats at all three ages, the concentration of most plasma amino acids decreased during fasting; when 5-day-old rats were refed, plasma amino acid concentrations increased, but not to the levels in the fed state. Plasma insulin concentrations increased with age. Plasma insulin concentrations decreased more rapidly with fasting and increased more extensively with refeeding in 5-day-old rats than in older rats. These results suggest that muscle protein synthesis is more responsive to food intake in young suckled rats than in older suckled or weaned rats; this increased responsiveness is accompanied by greater changes in circulating insulin concentrations.