An investigation of the effects of chronic administration of ethanol by the liquid diet procedure and its subsequent withdrawal on tryptophan (Trp) metabolism and disposition was performed in rats. Treatment with the control liquid diet caused an enhancement of liver Trp pyrrolase activity and mRNA abundance. These effects are not due to the starvation associated with this feeding procedure, because they occur in rats maintained on the liquid diet ad libitum. Chronic ethanol administration in the liquid diet did not further influence the above increased expression of Trp pyrrolase mRNA but caused inhibition of pyrrolase activity in competition with the effects of the diet. The control liquid diet decreased liver Trp concentration, but exerted no significant effects on other aspects of Trp disposition. The most striking and robust finding was a highly significant elevation in both Trp pyrrolase activity and mRNA expression at 7 h following discontinuation of ethanol availability, at which time there were demonstrable behavioural signs of ethanol withdrawal. The increase in Trp pyrrolase mRNA during alcohol withdrawal may be caused by corticosterone, whose circulating concentration was also increased. The changes in Trp pyrrolase activity during ethanol withdrawal were associated with significant alterations in Trp disposition including decreased brain Trp concentration and 5-hydroxytryptamine synthesis and turnover. These alterations may play a pivotal role in the behavioural manifestations of ethanol withdrawal including the hyperexcitement underlying audiogenic seizures. We suggest that rat Trp pyrrolase gene regulation may be an important biological determinant of the ethanol withdrawal syndrome and requires further study, and that the use of the liquid diet procedure in Trp metabolic studies requires inclusion of adequate controls and special attention to the effects of the liquid diet itself.