Cardiocytes in the atria contain a prohormone that gives rise to atrial natriuretic peptides (ANP's), which have intrinsic hemodynamic regulatory activity. The distribution of ANP's in the brain suggests the involvement of these peptides in central cardiovascular regulation. In conscious rats with chronic indwelling catheters, volume loading with isotonic saline or glucose increased the amount of circulating immunoreactive ANP's by a factor of 4 to 5, as determined by radioimmunoassay. Hyperosmotic challenge with a hypertonic NaCl solution or anesthesia with halothane caused similar increases in plasma ANP's. Results obtained with the denervated-heart preparation indicate that neuronal influences are important in the release of ANP's induced by volume loading. As judged from reversed-phase high-performance liquid chromatography of extracted plasma and radioimmunoassay of collected fractions, the circulating physiologically important ANP's in the conscious rodent appear to be alpha-rANP(5-28) (atriopeptin III) and either alpha-rANP(3-28) [ANF(8-33)] or alpha-rANP(1-28) (ANF).