Duplicate aliquots of 20 fresh-frozen normal human male sera were prepared for estrone sulfate (ES) radioimmunoassay (RIA) by each of three different methods: the thin-layer chromatography (TLC) procedure we previously reported, a new procedure including overnight heating (100 C) of an ethanol extract reconstituted in dilute acetate buffer, and the new procedure with the hot incubation omitted. The purpose of the 100 C incubation was the selective thermal solvolysis of dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DS), the only steroid conjugate present in serum in high enough concentrations to interfere with a high-specificity ES RIA. Dehydroepiandrosterone released by solvolysis and endogenous unconjugated steroids were extracted from the samples with ether before RIA. Estrone sulfate values obtained after the thermal solvolysis preparation averaged 854 +/- 501 pg/ml (SD) versus 826 +/- 474 pg/ml (SD) after the TLC method, with excellent correlation between the two (r = 0.97). Samples prepared by the new method but with thermal solvolysis omitted averaged a 33.8% elevation of measured ES level, an elevation significantly correlated (P less than 0.02) with DS levels obtained from the same specimens. In addition, a single specimen showed no elevation after preparation by the thermal solvolysis method when up to 8 micrograms/ml authentic DS as added before extraction. Compared with the TLC method, the new method also provides substantial savings in specimen volume requirements and sample processing time.