These studies were designed to investigate the effects of low dietary zinc, copper or selenium intake of certain types of stress and of injection of zinc, copper or cadmium on metallothionein I (MT-I) concentrations in the blood and urine of rats. The aim was to establish whether such measurements could be of value in the diagnosis of zinc deficiency. Marginal zinc deficiency rapidly caused a major decrease in MT-I levels in the blood cells and to a lesser extent in urine. Injection of zinc and also of cadmium and copper had the opposite effect and increased MT-I concentrations in both samples, although the effects of zinc on blood cells and urine were relatively transient. The MT-I in the blood cells was associated mainly with the erythrocytes. No changes in blood or urine MT-I levels were found in copper- and selenium-deficient rats. Neither cold stress nor restriction of food intake for 24 h had any significant effect on MT-I levels in the blood cells or urine. Endotoxin injection increased urinary MT-I excretion in both zinc-adequate and zinc-deficient rats but did not affect blood cell MT-I levels in either group of animals. It appears therefore that assay of erythrocyte MT levels could be of particular value in the diagnosis of zinc deficiency, especially when it is accompanied by stress or infection.