To define the relationship between plasma levels of immunoreactive atrial natriuretic peptide (IR-ANP) and hemodynamic parameters in patients with chronic pulmonary artery hypertension, we measured plasma concentrations of the peptide in 15 patients during right heart catheterization. Eleven patients had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 4 had pulmonary vascular disease of diverse etiology. At rest, plasma concentrations of IR-ANP positively correlated with mean pulmonary artery pressure (r = 0.70, p less than 0.01) and pulmonary vascular resistance (r = 0.88, p less than 0.001), but not with right atrial pressure. Nine of these patients, all with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, were also evaluated during exercise. Plasma concentrations of IR-ANP increased from 131 +/- 22 to 191 +/- 30 pg/ml (p less than 0.003) at maximal exercise, whereas pulmonary artery pressure increased from 29 +/- 1.5 to 56 +/- 2.5 mm Hg and right atrial pressure from 5 +/- 1 to 13 +/- 2 mm Hg. Increases of plasma IR-ANP concentrations correlated with changes in pulmonary artery pressure and right atrial pressure but not with changes in pulmonary capillary wedge pressure. These findings suggest that ANP is released in response to an increase in pulmonary artery pressure and are consistent with the hypothesis that ANP could modulate the pulmonary vascular tone in patients with pulmonary artery hypertension.