The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) chaperones are highly conserved proteins that catalyze the posttranslational processing of all secretory and membrane proteins. Our studies suggest that chaperone declines are one of the two central defects in Alzheimer's disease. We propose that similar declines in other organ systems underlie the physiological deficits of aging. Rats were maintained in a colony from age 21 days to death. Animals were killed at regular intervals, and hepatic, ER chaperone contents were determined by immunoblotting. ERp55, ERp57, ERp72, BiP, and calnexin constitutive levels declined 30%-50% with age. Calreticulin was unaffected. BiP (also known as GRP78), ERp55, and ERp57 showed marked swings with peaks occurring in midwinter and midsummer. This cyclics declined 73% with age. Considering the role of the ER chaperones in membrane and secretory protein posttranslational processing, these data support the concept that their loss could lead to many of the physiological declines associated with aging.