The use of a rapid and sensitive assay for N-acetylaspartate (NAA) in urine or eluates from dried urine on filter paper to make a chemical diagnosis of Canavan disease (CD) is described. It involves a simplified urease pretreatment for sample preparation and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (EI, scanning mode) with or without stable isotope dilution. Significant improvements in the recovery of NAA and the GC-MS data-handling device made the assay without stable isotope dilution sensitive and quantitative enough to diagnose CD: Its coefficient of variation (CV) was below 12%. The CV obtained with stable isotope dilution was below 9%. One patient with CD had an abnormal NAA level that was more than 6 S.D. above the mean of the age-matched controls. This diagnostic procedure is accurate for screening and for the chemical diagnosis of CD, with a good cost:benefit ratio. The urinary NAA levels of the healthy controls decreased significantly with age. This change should be considered in making a chemical diagnosis of this disease.