OBJECTIVE--To study the circadian pattern of plasma concentrations of vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) in patients with orthotopic heart transplants. Circulating VIP is known to have neural and immunological sources. PATIENTS AND METHODS--13 patients with orthotopic heart transplants were studied 12-53 months (mean 31.8 months) after operation. All were haemodynamically compensated and had no histological evidence of rejection. They were being treated with cyclosporin, azathioprine, and prednisone. Ten healthy individuals were studied as controls. Circulating VIP was assayed six times within a 24h period. Time qualified data were analysed by ANOVA and the cosinor method. Student's t test for unpaired data and Bingham's test for cosinor-derived parameters were used for statistical comparisons. RESULTS--Plasma concentrations of VIP were lower in the patients with orthotopic heart transplants than in the controls (p < 0.001). ANOVA and the cosinor method respectively showed a statistically significant within-day variability and circadian rhythm in the controls but not in the patients with heart transplants. DISCUSSION--The low plasma concentrations of VIP in the patients with heart transplants could be the result of the lack of contribution by the cardiac VIPergic fibres, a reduction of VIP release by the pharmacologically suppressed immune system, the inhibitory effects of cyclosporin on neural function and humoral secretions, and the effects of negative feedback on VIP release of high concentrations of atrial natriuretic peptide. The lack of the circadian rhythm suggests a structural disorder, which should be further investigated.