A RIA for PTH-related protein (PTHrP) is described, using a polyclonal goat antiserum against synthetic PTHrP-(1-40) and recombinant PTHrP-(1-84) as standard. The detection limit is 2 pmol/L, and intra- and interassay coefficients of variation are 4.8% and 13.6%, respectively. This assay does not detect PTH even at concentrations of up to 2000 pmol/L. Cross-reactivity studies using various synthetic PTHrP peptides localize the antibody-binding epitope between residues 20 and 29. Hypercalcemic patients with a range of solid tumors and no evidence of bone metastases on radionuclide scanning (n = 27) all had detectable PTHrP levels (range, 2.8-51.2 pmol/L). Of 17 patients with solid tumors (other than breast) and bone metastases, 11 (64%) also had detectable PTHrP levels (range, 4.9-47.5 pmol/L). Twenty samples from breast cancer patients with hypercalcemia, 19 with evidence of bone metastases, and 1 with a negative bone scan were assayed, and detectable PTHrP levels were found in 13 (65%; range, 3.8-61.6 pmol/L). Patients with squamous cell carcinomata and normal serum calcium levels (n = 11) had no detectable PTHrP or levels close to the detection limit of the assay (range, less than 2 to 3.7 pmol/L). Plasma levels in normal volunteers were below the detection limit of the assay in all but 1 of 38 normal subjects. Patients with chronic renal failure on hemodialysis (n = 18) and patients with primary hyperparathyroidism (n = 14) all had undetectable PTHrP in this assay. This assay allows positive identification of patients with PTHrP-mediated hypercalcemia and, therefore, should be useful in the clinical investigation of the hypercalcemic patient. Furthermore, it has allowed detection of circulating PTHrP in hypercalcemic breast cancer patients with bone metastases, indicating a significant role for PTHrP in this disease.