Certain infections and malignancies in mammals cause the development of a condition known as cachexia in which the animal continues to lose weight, often while consuming an adequate diet. When macrophages are stimulated with an endotoxin, they produce a factor or factors, termed cachectin, that inhibits the activity of fat-producing (lipogenic) enzymes in cultured adipocytes. This effect may reflect one of the physiological bases for cachexia. In the present study, clones of complementary DNA from genes whose expression is increased during the differentiation of adipocytes were used to study the molecular basis of cachectin's actions. In the presence of cachectin, the expression of the corresponding genes was reversibly and specifically inhibited. Furthermore, when mature adipocytes were exposed to cachectin, the messenger RNA's of those genes diminished and rapidly approached the levels present before differentiation.