Tumors are known to cause profound changes in host biology, but the mechanisms responsible for these changes remain unclear. Ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) is a rate-limiting enzyme that catalyzes the biosynthesis of polyamines. The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of MC-26 tumor burden on ODC activity in the gastrointestinal tract, kidney and liver of mice. Forty-four Balb/c mice were randomly divided into 2 groups and the test group was pair-fed (to control). Group 1 was the tumor-free control. Group 2 was inoculated subcutaneously with 5 x 10(5) MC-26 cells. The ODC activity in the kidney and liver of tumor-bearing mice was significantly lower compared to tumor-free controls at sacrifice. ODC activity in the colon increased almost 4-fold. These results suggest that the presence of MC-26 tumor causes systemic effects that alter ODC activity. The tumor may elaborate a substance that suppresses ODC activity in some normal tissues while stimulating ODC activity in the tissue from which the tumor was derived.