Protein synthesis is altered in both skeletal muscle and liver in response to nutritional status with food deprivation being associated with an inhibition of mRNA translation. In the present study, the effect of food-intake on the initiation of mRNA translation was examined in rats fasted for 18-h and then refed a complete diet. Fasting and refeeding caused alterations in translation initiation in both skeletal muscle and liver that were not associated with any detectable changes in the activity of eIF2B or in the phosphorylation state of eIF2 alpha. Instead, alterations in initiation were associated with changes in the phosphorylation state of eIF4E and/or the association of eIF4E with eIF4G as well as the eIF4E binding protein, 4E-BP1. In muscle from fasted rats, the amount of eIF4E present in an inactive complex with 4E-BP1 was increased 5-fold compared to freely fed control animals. One hour after refeeding a complete diet, the amount of 4E-BP1 bound to eIF4E was reduced to freely fed control values. Reduced association of the two proteins was the result of increased phosphorylation of 4E-BP1. Refeeding a complete diet also stimulated the binding of eIF4E to eIF4G to form the active eIF4F complex. In liver, the amount of eIF4E associated with eIF4G, but not the amount of eIF4E associated with 4E-BP1, was altered by fasting and refeeding. Furthermore, in liver, but not in skeletal muscle, fasting and refeeding resulted in modulation of the phosphorylation state of eIF4E. Overall, the results suggest that protein synthesis may be differentially regulated in muscle and liver in response to fasting and refeeding. In muscle, protein synthesis is regulated through modulation of the binding of eIF4E to eIF4G and in liver through modulation of both phosphorylation of eIF4E as well as binding of eIF4E to eIF4G.