The compound 2-phenylethylamine is an "endogenous amphetamine" which may modulate central adrenergic functions. 2-Phenylethylamine is mainly metabolized by monoamine oxidase to form phenyl acetate (PAA). The 24-hour urinary excretion of PAA was measured in normal healthy volunteers and depressed patients. Patients were diagnosed according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, edition 3. In 70 percent of healthy volunteers of both sexes, the excretion of PAA ranged between 70 and 175 milligrams per 24 hours (mean = 141.1 +/- 10.2). Inpatients with major depressive disorder (unipolar type) (N = 31) excreted less PAA (68.7 +/- 7.0 milligrams per 24 hours) and 55 percent of them excreted less than 70 milligrams per 24 hours; there were no significant differences in the PAA excretion between untreated patients (N = 13) and those treated with antidepressants that were not effective (N = 18). The PAA excretion was reduced to a lesser extent in 35 less severely depressed unipolar outpatients (drug-free for 1 week) (86.3 +/- 11.8 milligrams per 24 hours). These results suggest that low PAA urinary excretion may be a reliable state marker for the diagnosis of some forms of unipolar major depressive disorders.