Patients with neurogenic orthostatic hypotension can have deficits in sympathetic neural function at any of several levels of the sympathetic neuraxis. We determined whether patterns of plasma levels of dopa, norepinephrine, dihydroxyphenylglycol, and dihydroxyphenylacetic acid would distinguish patients with orthostatic hypotension associated with multiple system atrophy, pure autonomic failure, or deficiency of dopamine-beta-hydroxylase. Plasma levels of catechols were normal in most patients with multiple system atrophy, consistent with relatively intact peripheral sympathetic neurons; in contrast, most patients with pure autonomic failure had decreased levels of all four catechols, consistent with degenerative loss of sympathetic nerve endings. Patients with deficiency of dopamine-beta-hydroxylase had increased levels of dopa and dihydroxyphenylacetic acid and markedly decreased levels of norepinephrine and dihydroxyphenylglycol, suggesting compensatory increases in sympathetic nerve activity in the absence of norepinephrine biosynthesis. Subgroups of patients with pure autonomic failure or multiple system atrophy had low levels of norepinephrine with normal levels of dopa, dihydroxyphenylglycol, and dihydroxyphenylacetic acid, consistent with normal catecholamine biosynthesis and decreased postganglionic sympathetic nerve traffic or decreased exocytotic release from sympathetic nerve endings. The results demonstrate the value of examining patterns of plasma levels of catechols to elucidate mechanisms of neurogenic orthostatic hypotension.