To determine the effect of severe chronic protein deficiency on protein synthesis in different tissues and total protein in plasma, and on plasma biochemical constituents involved in amino acid metabolism, we fed diets containing either 20 or 3% protein to two groups of four age-matched piglets. After consuming the diets for 8 wk, the pigs received a primed-constant infusion of 2 H3-leucine for 8 h to measure the fractional synthesis rates (FSR) of tissue protein and total protein in plasma. Plasma urea and amino acid concentrations, particularly indispensable amino acids, were significantly lower in protein-deficient pigs. Fractional protein synthesis rates were lower in skin by 66% (P < 0.01), in jejunal mucosa by 50% (P < 0.05), in masseter muscle by 40% (P < 0.05), and in liver by 25% (P < 0.02); the fractional synthesis rate of the longissimus muscle was not different than controls. Although plasma protein concentration was significantly (P < 0.01) lower in protein-deficient pigs, the fractional synthesis rate of the total intravascular plasma protein pool was not different. We conclude that adaptation to a low protein diet involves a reduction in the rate of protein synthesis in most body tissues, with the most marked changes occurring in skin and intestine, two tissues which frequently exhibit severe functional impairment in protein malnutrition.