The discovery of atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP) has modified our current understanding of the regulation of sodium metabolism. This peptide, of which the second messenger is cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cyclic GMP) is released by the atrial myocytes in response to increased atrial stretch and has for essential function to diminish the venous return to the heart. Radioimmunoassays have demonstrated that plasma ANP and cyclic GMP levels are increased in various diseases such as congestive heart failure (CHF), renal insufficiency, and, to a lesser extent, diabetes mellitus and liver cirrhosis with ascites. Plasma ANP is of prognostic value in CHF and reflects the effective central volemia in renal failure so that its assay as well as that of plasma cyclic GMP seem of interest in these diseases. Further studies are needed to assess the pathophysiological significance of ANP in diabetes mellitus and cirrhosis, and to define the indications of the treatment by enkephalinase inhibitors which increase endogenous ANP levels by lowering the catabolism of this hormone.