The effects of acute food restriction (i.e. 24–72 h) on (1) the colonization of MADB106 tumor cells; (2) the response of specific T cell subsets in peripheral blood (i.e. CD4+ and CD8+ cells), and (3) natural killer cell activity (NKCA) in the spleen were studied in the Fischer 344 rat. Previous studies have demonstrated that the spread of this tumor cell is enhanced by exposure to an acute stressor within 24 h of tumor inoculation. Consistent with these reports, 72-hour food restriction after tumor inoculation enhanced colonization of tumor cells to the lungs when assessed 4 weeks after inoculation. Food restriction was found to markedly influence the percentage of T cell subsets (i.e. CD4+ and CD8+ cells) and NKCA in the early (24-72 h) postinoculation stage. At 72 h after inoculation, food restriction was associated with a significant reduction in the percentage of CD4+ cells in tumor- or saline-inoculated animals. The percentage of CD8+ cells was signifcantly increased at 24 and 72 h after tumor inoculation in ad libitum, but not in food-deprived animals. NKCA at 72 h was significantly reduced in saline-treated food-deprived animals compared to animals fed ad libitum. Given that glucocorticoids are typically increased during acute food deprivation and that glucocorticoids are in some instances associated with depressed NKCA, the present study investigated whether there was a relationship between plasma glucocorticoid levels (i.e. corticosterone) and NKCA; however, no significant relationship was found. In conclusion, the present findings demonstrate that 72-hour food deprivation is associated with enhancement of tumor metastasis. This outcome is mediated, at least in part, by the modulatory effect of the physiological response to acute food restriction upon the distribution of circulating T cells and NKCA in the spleen during the early (24-72 h) postinoculation phase.