In order to elucidate how brain natriuretic peptides (NPs) are affected by experimentally induced heart failure, we have measured the immunoreactive (IR) levels of the NP in extracts from 10 regions of ovine brain, including pituitary, and clarified their molecular forms using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). Using species-specific radioimmunoassay (RIA), atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP), B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) and C-type natriuretic peptide (CNP) were all detected in extracts taken from control animals and sheep that had undergone rapid ventricular pacing for 7 days to induce heart failure. CNP was the most abundant NP as assessed by specific RIA, and the pituitary contained the highest IR levels for all three NP. Compared with control animals, the pituitary content of BNP in animals with heart failure was reduced by 40% (control, 0.26+/-0.02 pmol/g wet weight versus heart failure 0.16+/-0.01; P<0.01, n=7). No other significant changes were observed. The molecular forms of ANP and CNP in whole brain extracts as assessed by HPLC were proANP and CNP22, CNP53 and proCNP, respectively. BNP in pituitary extracts was assessed to be primarily proBNP with a minor component of mature BNP26.