To evaluate the catabolic effects of dexamethasone therapy on protein metabolism, amino acid concentrations and urinary 3-methylhistidine (3MH) were measured in 28 premature infants who were included in a double-blind controlled study using early dexamethasone therapy in the prevention of bronchopulmonary dysplasia. Fifteen infants received dexamethasone (0.5 mg/kg/day i.v.) and 13 infants received normal saline as control. Heparinized venous blood samples for amino acid analysis were obtained before the study and again at day 5 after starting the study. Urinary 3MH was measured on days 1, 3, 5, 7, 14, 21, and 28 of treatment. A substantial increase in amino acid concentrations was observed in infants receiving dexamethasone. Alanine, glutamine, citrulline, ornithine and cystine concentrations increased twofold or more. The 3MH:creatinine ratio was increased in the treated group. These metabolic effects were most likely due to an increase in protein catabolism.