The human heart secretes both atrial natriuretic peptide and brain natriuretic peptide. This study attempts to clarify the pathophysiological significance of the peptides in cardiovascular diseases. Using immunoradiometric assay, plasma brain natriuretic peptide and atrial natriuretic peptide levels in essential hypertension, various secondary hypertension, chronic renal failure, chronic heart failure during cardiac pacing, and acute myocardial infarction were determined. Mean plasma brain natriuretic peptide and atrial natriuretic peptide levels in healthy subjects were 3.7±0.3 and 5.7±0.3 pmol/L, respectively, and increased as a function of age. Plasma brain natriuretic peptide levels showed a larger increase than atrial natriuretic peptide levels in various cardiovascular diseases. In chronic renal failure, whereas plasma atrial natriuretic peptide levels decreased significantly after hemodiarysis and were correlated with the changes in body weight, changes in plasma brain natriuretic peptide levels were less prominent and did not show such a correlation. In chronic heart failure, both basal plasma brain natriuretic peptide and atrial natriuretic peptide levels were also significantly elevated. However, in response to acute ventricular or atrial pacing, brain natriuretic peptide levels did not show any increase in contrast to the marked increase of atrial natriuretic peptide levels. In acute myocardial infarction, brain natriuretic peptide levels showed more prominent changes than atrial natriuretic peptide levels and were correlated with serum levels of creatine kinase and cardiac myosin light chain I in most patients. These results suggest that both brain and atrial natriuretic peptides play an important role in the regulation of cardiovascular homeostasis. The two natriuretic peptides appear to take partial charge of their respective roles in responding to various hemodynamic overloads to the heart.