Lethal infections are associated with cellular dysfunction as evidenced by a decrease in the resting transmembrane potential difference (Em) of skeletal muscle fibers. Endotoxin stimulation of macrophages evokes production of cachectin, a protein that has been implicated as a mediator of the lethal effects of endotoxemia. In the present study, rat skeletal muscle fiber Em decreased when incubated with recombinant human cachectin. The reduction of Em induced by cachectin occurred in a dose-related fashion and was inhibited by mAb against the monokine. Infusion of cachectin induced a decline of skeletal muscle Em in vivo, and suggests that cachectin may acutely mediate alterations of skeletal muscle membrane function after infection.