Arginine vasopressin (AVP) is a key regulator of water balance, but its instability makes reliable measurement difficult and precludes routine use. We present a method for quantifying AVP release by use of copeptin, a glycopeptide comprising the C-terminal part of the AVP prohormone. We measured copeptin in 50-microL serum and plasma samples from healthy individuals and from critically ill patients with sepsis. Our sandwich immunoluminometric assay used 2 polyclonal antibodies to amino acids 132-164 of pre-provasopressin. The assay yielded results within 3 h. The analytical detection limit was 1.7 pmol/L, and the interlaboratory CV was <20% for values >2.25 pmol/L. The assay was linear on dilution of the analyte. Ex vivo copeptin stability (<20% loss of analyte) for at least 7 days at room temperature and 14 days at 4 degrees C was shown for serum and EDTA-, heparin-, and citrate plasma. Copeptin (median, 4.2 pmol/L; range, 1-13.8 pmol/L) was detectable in 97.5% of 359 healthy individuals and was not associated with age. Median concentrations were considerably higher in men than women, increased significantly after exercise, and were influenced by fasting and water load. Copeptin was significantly (P <0.001) increased in 60 critically ill patients with sepsis (median, 79.5 pmol/L; range, 10.6-228.0 pmol/L). The correlation between copeptin and AVP for 110 samples was r = 0.78 (P <0.0001). Copeptin is stable for days after blood withdrawal and can be quickly and easily measured. The copeptin assay may be a useful alternative to direct measurement of AVP concentration.