In order to clarify whether or not atrial natriuretic polypeptides are hormones in man, we have measured plasma alpha-human atrial natriuretic polypeptide (alpha-hANP)-like immunoreactivity (alpha-hANP-LI) with or without extraction procedure. alpha-hANP-LI was detected in plasma extracts from all 5 normal subjects and 7 patients with heart diseases. The alpha-hANP-LI concentration in normal peripheral plasma was 37.7 +/- 7.0 pg/ml (mean +/- SE). Plasma concentrations of alpha-hANP-LI in the coronary sinus obtained by cardiac catheterization were 3 to 10 times higher than those in the peripheral vein, inferior vena cava, right atrium, pulmonary artery and aorta. High performance gel permeation chromatography coupled with a radioimmunoassay (RIA) for alpha-hANP revealed that alpha-hANP-LI in normal peripheral plasma eluted at the position corresponding to that of authentic alpha-hANP without detectable amounts of high molecular weight forms. alpha-hANP-LI extracted from plasma taken from the coronary sinus of two patients also showed a single peak of alpha-hANP-LI co-eluting with alpha-hANP. In contrast, not only alpha-hANP but gamma-hANP and beta-hANP, high molecular weight forms, were present in the human atrial tissue. These results indicate that alpha-hANP is the predominant form of alpha-hANP-LI in human plasma and that this form generated in the atrial cardiocytes is preferentially released from these cells and circulates in the body.