To evaluate the nature of anterior pituitary secretory events in vivo, we have applied a novel waveform-independent deconvolution technique that dissects the underlying secretory behavior of endocrine glands quantitatively from available serial plasma hormone concentration measurements assuming one- or two-compartment elimination kinetics. We used this new tool to ask the following physiological questions. 1) Does the pituitary gland secrete exclusively in randomly dispersed bursts, and/or does a tonic (constitutive) mode of interburst hormone secretion exist? 2) What secretory mechanisms generate the nyctohemeral rhythms in plasma hormone concentrations? Analysis of 24-h plasma concentration profiles of GH, LH, FSH, PRL, TSH, ACTH, and beta-endorphin (n = 6-8 men/group) revealed that 1) pituitary secretion in vivo occurs in an exclusively burst-like mode for all hormones except TSH and PRL (for the latter two, a mixed burst and constitutive mode pertained); 2) significant nyctohemeral regulation of secretory burst frequency alone was not demonstrated for any hormone; 3) prominent 24-h variations in secretory burst amplitude alone were delineated for ACTH and LH; 4) TSH, GH, and beta-endorphin were both frequency and amplitude controlled; 5) no significant diurnal variations in FSH secretory parameters occurred; and 6) a fixed hormone half-life yielded fits of the 24-h data series with a normalized residual variance of less than 8%. We conclude that the normal human anterior pituitary gland releases its multiple (glyco)protein hormones via punctuated secretory episodes unassociated with tonic basal (constitutive) hormone secretion, except in the case of TSH and PRL. Hormone-specific amplitude and/or frequency control of secretory burst activity over 24 h provides the mechanistic basis for the classically recognized 24-h rhythms in plasma concentrations of adenohypophyseal hormones in men.