OBJECTIVE: Adrenomedullin, a recently discovered vasoactive peptide originally identified in pheochromocytoma, has been found to be increased in the plasma of pregnant women at term. This study was designed to elucidate whether adrenomedullin secretion is dependent on gestational age and the possible source and function of this peptide in human pregnancy. STUDY DESIGN: Adrenomedullin concentrations were determined by RIA in amniotic fluid and maternal plasma obtained from 110 pregnant women between 8 and 40 weeks of gestation. Subjects were stratified into five groups according to gestational age. In term patients (n = 15), adrenomedullin was also measured in the umbilical artery and vein separately. RESULTS: High concentrations of adrenomedullin were present in plasma and amniotic fluid samples from patients in the first, second and third trimester. There was no significant difference in mean maternal plasma concentration of adrenomedullin between the five patient groupings. Amniotic fluid adrenomedullin concentrations decreased from 81.2 +/- 11.7 pg/ml at 8-12 weeks of gestation to 63.7 +/- 6.0 pg/ml at 13-20 weeks of gestation and then increased at 21-28 weeks of gestation to 99.1 +/- 10.4 pg/ml. A further increase was found in samples collected after 37 weeks of gestation (132.6 +/- 10.1 pg/ml). In the umbilical vein, adrenomedullin concentration was higher (P < 0.05) than in the artery (65.7 +/- 6.1 pg/ml and 48.5 +/- 5.2 pg/ml respectively), suggesting that adrenomedullin in the fetal circulation derives from the placenta. CONCLUSIONS: Our results demonstrate the presence of adrenomedullin in maternal plasma and amniotic fluid throughout gestation, and show that its production starts very early in gestation, suggesting that this hormone may have an important role in human reproduction, from implantation to delivery.