Atrial natriuretic factor is postulated to act through atrial stretch receptors as a volume regulatory hormone that stimulates diuresis and natriuresis in response to increased atrial pressure. To characterize the stimuli associated with the release of atrial natriuretic factor in humans, we studied 14 normal subjects, both in the supine position and after 10 minutes in an upright posture, while they were on a regular diet (Day 0) and during 3 days of supplemental sodium chloride intake (8 g/day). Radioimmunoassay of plasma atrial natriuretic factor was performed with rabbit antibody to the human hormone amino acids (102-126). Urinary sodium excretion increased from 111 +/- 13 mEq/day (mean +/- SEM) on Day 0 to 275 +/- 15 mEq/day by the third day (Day 3) of high sodium intake. The level of atrial natriuretic factor in the supine position rose from 17 +/- 4 pg/ml (Day 0) to 76 +/- 13 pg/ml on Day 3 (p less than 0.001) and after 10 minutes in an upright posture on Day 3, the level fell to 32 +/- 10 (p less than 0.005). Plasma concentrations of atrial natriuretic factor correlated positively with spot and 24-hour urinary sodium excretion and weight gain, and correlated negatively with plasma aldosterone and renin activity. We conclude that the response of atrial natriuretic factor to sodium loading and posture change in humans is appropriate for a volume regulatory hormone.