The aim was to evaluate the role of insulin and insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) in activation of muscle protein synthesis after oral feeding. Synthesis rate of globular and myofibrillar proteins in muscle tissue was quantified by a flooding dose of radioactive phenylalanine. Muscle tissue expression of IGF-I mRNA was measured. Normal (C57 Bl) and diabetic mice (type I and type II) were subjected to an overnight fast (18 h) with subsequent refeeding procedures for 3 h with either oral chow intake or provision of insulin, IGF-I, glucose, and amino acids. Anti-insulin and anti-IGF-I were provided intraperitoneally before oral refeeding in some experiments. An overnight fast reduced synthesis of both globular (38 +/- 3%) and myofibrillar proteins (54 +/- 3%) in skeletal muscles, which was reversed by oral refeeding. Muscle protein synthesis, after starvation/ refeeding, was proportional and similar to changes in skeletal muscle IGF-I mRNA expression. Diabetic mice responded quantitatively similarly to starvation/refeeding in muscle protein synthesis compared with normal mice (C57 Bl). Both anti-insulin and anti-IGF-I attenuated significantly the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis in response to oral feeding, whereas exogenous provision of either insulin or IGF-I to overnight-starved and freely fed mice did not clearly stimulate protein synthesis in skeletal muscles. Our results support the suggestion that insulin and IGF-I either induce or facilitate the protein synthesis machinery in skeletal muscles rather than exerting a true stimulation of the biosynthetic process during feeding.