Chromogranin A, the protein that is co-stored and co-released with catecholamines from the adrenal medulla, has recently been identified in a variety of human endocrine tissues, both normal and neoplastic. We investigated the secretion of chromogranin A by peptide hormone-producing human tumors in studies of patients with the following neoplastic disorders: pheochromocytoma, parathyroid adenoma, primary parathyroid hyperplasia, medullary thyroid carcinoma, thyroidal C-cell hyperplasia, carcinoid tumor, oat-cell lung carcinoma, pancreatic islet-cell tumor, and aortic-body tumor. All these patient groups had elevated concentrations of plasma chromogranin A. We distinguished different forms of immunoreactive plasma chromogranin A by size with the use of gel filtration. Plasma chromogranin A levels were not elevated in patients with diverse "control" conditions--both benign and malignant and both endocrine and nonendocrine--in which peptide hormones are not produced. The sensitivity and specificity of plasma chromogranin A elevations in the diagnosis of peptide-producing endocrine neoplasms were 81 and 100 percent, respectively. The elevation of plasma chromogranin A in our subjects suggests that their neoplasms co-release chromogranin A along with the usual resident hormone of the tumor, that these neoplasms could be characterized as "chromograninomas," and that measurement of plasma chromogranin A may be a useful diagnostic procedure in subjects with endocrine tumors, especially multiple endocrine neoplasia.