In order to study the relationships between sex hormones, aging, and circulating levels of cardiac natriuretic peptides and to define reference values for atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP) and brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) assays, we measured the plasma levels of cardiac natriuretic peptides in a large group of healthy adults divided according to age and sex. We studied 216 healthy subjects of both sexes (109 men and 107 women) with age ranging from 20 to 77 years (mean 43.2+/-14.8 years). All subjects were non-obese and had normal arterial blood pressure; they were free from acute diseases, including asymptomatic heart disease. Highly sensitive and specific IRMA methods were used to measure plasma ANP and BNP. The mean ANP value in healthy adult subjects of both sexes was 17.8+/-10.9 pg/ml with no significant difference between men (16.7+/-10.0 pg/ml) and women (18.8+/-11.7 pg/ml). The mean BNP value in healthy adult subjects of both sexes was 9.9+/-9.0 pg/ml with a significant difference (p<0.0001) between men (7.7+/-7.1 pg/ml) and women (12.2+/-10.2 pg/ml). There was a weak linear relationship between age and either ANP (r=0.350, p<0.0001) or BNP (r=0.254, p=0.0002) values. When the circulating levels of cardiac natriuretic hormones, and age and sex were analyzed by multiple stepwise regression analysis, both age and sex significantly and independently contributed to the regression. Our study indicates independent positive effects of aging and female sex hormones on ANP and BNP levels in healthy adult subjects. These effects should be taken into account in the calculation of appropriate reference values for cardiac natriuretic hormones.