The uptake of myristic (C14:0), palmitic (C16:0), palmitoleic (C:16,N-7), stearic (C18:0), oleic (C18:1,N-9), linoleic (C18:2,N-6) and arachidonic (C20:4,N-6) acids from plasma free fatty acids (FFA), triglycerides (TGA), phospholipids (PL) and cholesterol esters (CE) was measured in tissue-isolated hepatomas 7288CTC and 7777 in vivo. Adult tumour-bearing Buffalo rats were fed a normal chow diet ad libitum and were subjected to darkness from 1800 to 0600 h. Arterial plasma levels of FFA, TGA, PL and CE were increased during the dark period without change in fatty acid compositions. Arteriovenous difference measurements of tumour lipid uptake were performed between 0600 and 0900 h and included both high (dark) and low (light) arterial blood lipid concentrations. The rate of lipid uptake from each lipid class was directly dependent on the rate of supply of the lipid to the tumour. The efficiency of uptake, however, depended on the type of plasma lipid and the tumour. During one pass of arterial blood, hepatoma 7288CTC (n = 5 to 13) removed 46, 33, 36 and 31%, and hepatoma 7777 (n = 7 to 9) removed 48, 50, 52 and 49% of the fatty acids supplied in FFA, TGA, PL and CE, respectively. Perfusion of tissue-isolated tumours in situ with donor blood containing plasma free (1-14C)palmitic acid showed that 14C-palmitic acid was removed from the arterial blood and was incorporated into tumour lipids and that 14CO2 was released into the tumour venous blood. Uptake of the seven fatty acids over a 24 h period was greatest from PL greater than TGA greater than FFA greater than CE and was estimated to total 18.1 +/- 3.5 mg fatty acids g-1 for hepatoma 7288CTC and 25.9 +/- 3.5 mg fatty acids g-1 for hepatoma 7777. Both hepatoma 7288CTC and 7777 grew at a rate of about 1 g day-1 and contained 13.4 +/- 2.5 and 10.6 +/- 3.9 mg of these 7 fatty acids g-1 tumour wet weight, respectively. We conclude that these two tumours obtain all of the fatty acids needed for daily growth from host arterial blood.