A specific and sensitive radioimmunoassay for adrenomedullin has been developed. Half-maximal inhibition of binding of radioiodinated adrenomedullin was observed at 4 fmol/tube. The radioimmunoassay recognized the entire adrenomedullin molecule and has little crossreactivity with adrenomedullin fragment peptides. Adrenomedullin-like immunoreactivity was found to circulate in human plasma at considerable concentration (3.3 +/- 0.39 fmol/ml). The immunoreactivity of adrenomedullin was eluted at almost the same position as synthetic adrenomedullin on gel-filtration chromatography and reverse-phase high-performance liquid chromatography, suggesting that circulating adrenomedullin recognized by the present radioimmunoassay is identical or very similar to authentic adrenomedullin. Plasma immunoreactive adrenomedullin significantly increased in patients with hypertension, with a progressive rise proportionate to disease severity.