The effect of fasting on hormonal and metabolic variables was evaluated in normal rats and in rats with obesity induced by neonatal treatment with monosodium glutamate (MSG). The hyperinsulinemia of the fed obese rats was reversed by fasting. Plasma corticosterone was also high in the fed obese and decreased to levels similar to fed controls, while it increased in the latter group during fasting. In contrast, thyroid hormone levels decreased in controls but increased in the obese rats in response to fasting. The fed obese group had lower carcass protein and higher carcass lipid contents than controls. In response to fasting, the decrements of the initial amount of both protein and fat were lower in MSG than in controls. Fasting induced a sustained increase in plasma free fatty acids only in the obese rats, although a single 100 mumol.l-1 dose of norepinephrine stimulated in vitro glycerol release more pronouncedly in epididymal adipocytes from control than obese rats. The results indicate that MSG-obese rats were able to mobilize fat stores during prolonged fasting. The high availability of lipid fuels and the sharp and sustained decrease in circulating corticosterone in the MSG group were probably important in diminishing body protein consumption during fasting.