Atrial natriuretic factor (ANF) is a cardiac hormone exerting potent cardiovascular and renal effects but its poor intestinal absorption and rapid inactivation have prevented so far its therapeutic utilisation. However inhibition of endogenous ANF metabolism progressively emerges as a novel therapeutic approach in cardiovascular and renal disorders. The critical role played by enkephalinase (membrane metalloendopeptidase, EC 22.214.171.124) in ANF inactivation was deduced from the effects of inhibitors. These compounds not only protect partially exogenous ANF from hydrolysis by some tissue preparations in vitro but also, in vivo, they increase the half-life of the exogenous hormone in plasma and, even more markedly, its recovery in intact form in kidney, a major target organ. In addition, enkephalinase inhibitors increase by two- to three-fold the circulating level of endogenous ANF, even when the latter is already markedly elevated, such as in patients with chronic heart failure. Finally, enkephalinase inhibitors induce a series of ANF-like responses such as natriuresis, diuresis or increase in cGMP excretion which are attributable to the hormone. These pharmacological observations, as well as preliminary clinical trials, suggest that enkephalinase inhibitors may represent a novel class of therapeutic agents with potential applications in congestive heart failure, essential hypertension and various sodium-retaining states.