Neuropeptides are sufficiently stable to allow valid radioimmunoassay of peptide concentrations in post-mortem human nervous tissue and in human cerebrospinal fluid. Studies have now documented abnormalities of peptide concentrations in degenerative diseases of the brain. Somatostatin concentration is reduced in the hippocampus and neocortex of patients dying with Alzheimer's type dementia. In Huntington's disease, there are reduced concentrations of substance P, met-enkephalin and cholecystokinin in the basal ganglia; in contrast the concentrations of somatostatin and TRH are increased. Immunocytochemical and experimental lesion studies are underway in an attempt to localize the peptide-containing cells affected by these disorders; and the potential role of alterations in neuropeptide function in the pathogenesis, clinical manifestations and therapy of these illnesses is of great interest. Although alterations of CSF peptide concentrations have been reported in a variety of human diseases, interpretation of these results requires knowledge of the origin and disposition of CSF peptides. Future research into the pathology of peptidergic systems will depend on the development of specific peptide antagonists to probe dynamic aspects of peptide function and on the application of the tools of molecular biology, such as specific mRNA assays, to human material.