In contrast to most other endocrine peptides ANF is stored in the heart as part of a larger prohormone, often called pro-ANF, yet is found in the circulation as a 28 amino acid peptide, called ANF. It has been shown that the conversion of the 126 amino acid pro-ANF to ANF occurs in the heart. This paper summarizes studies from our laboratory that have used a primary neonatal rat heart cell culture system to investigate the location and mechanism of this relatively unusual processing event. We have found that in culture the maintenance of the cells in a glucocorticoid-containing serum-free medium is required to observe processing as occurs in vivo. The cells contain the prohormone while ANF accumulates in the medium. Various experiments with protease inhibitors, pulse-chase biosynthetic labeling, incubation of cells with ANF-related peptides, and enrichment of cultures for myocytes have resulted in our conclusion that the processing of pro-ANF takes place most likely within the cardiac myocyte just prior to, but in concert with secretion. We have expanded on the use of this processing-competent atrial myocyte culture system to investigate mechanisms of stimulated ANF secretion. It has been shown that the activation of several phospholipase C-coupled receptors (e.g., alpha 1-adrenergic and endothelin receptors) produces a robust release of ANF, but only in cultures that have been maintained under appropriate conditions. Further, it is apparent that the phenylephrine- or endothelin-mediated release of ANF depends in part on influx of extracellular calcium (Ca2+o), while the remaining component of stimulated release may depend on mobilization of intracellular calcium. It also appears that these agonists produce an initial phase of stimulated release, occurring within the first 5 min of agonist exposure, independent of Ca2+o, and a sustained phase that persists as long as the agonists remain on the cells, and depends on the presence of Ca2+o and thus calcium influx. Taken together our studies indicate that the hormonal environment may be an important factor directing the development of differentiated endocrine functions by atrial myocytes and may be involved in the regulation of ANF expression, biosynthesis, and secretion.