A single class of saturable, specific binding sites for the circulating form of atrial natriuretic peptides, ANP(99-126), was identified in rat thymus and spleen and in isolated thymocytes and spleen cells using quantitative autoradiographic techniques. In the thymus, the relative potency of ANP analogs to inhibit [125I] ANP(99-126) binding was ANP(99-126) = ANP(103-126) greater than ANP(111-126) greater than ANP(103-125). ANP(103-123) could not displace [125I]ANP(99-126) binding. Addition of ANP(99-126) stimulated the formation of cyclic GMP in isolated thymocytes and spleen cells in a dose-dependent manner. Our results indicate that immune cells have specific ANP receptors which could be coupled to guanylate cyclase activation and may play a role in the regulation of the immune response.