Cardiac myocytes store the 126-amino acid precursor of atrial natriuretic factor (pro-ANF), yet the mature, bioactive 28-amino acid peptide, ANF-(99-126), and the resulting N-terminal product, ANF-(1-98), are the forms of the hormone that are released by the heart and found in the circulation. Although previous studies have shown that the maturation of ANF takes place in the heart, it is not known whether it occurs in or on the myocyte concurrently with secretion, or whether cleavage takes place postsecretionally on either the myocyte surface or the surface of a nonmuscle cardiac cell. To address these questions, experiments were carried out in the present study using primary atrial cultures that had been prepared such that greater than 90% of the cells were myocytes. Reversed-phase and ion-exchange HPLC, coupled with immunoprecipitation of biosynthetically labeled ANF, showed that the stored peptide, pro-ANF, was cleaved between residues 98 and 99 such that ANF-(1-98) and (99-126) accumulated in the medium. Coupling biosynthetic labeling with timed secretion experiments showed that the extent of ANF processing was not dependent on the time after secretion; maximal levels of processing were observed at all secretion times examined. Additionally, the processing-competent myocyte-enriched cultures were unable to cleave exogenously added pro-ANF. These results indicate that the myocyte is the cell type responsible for pro-ANF maturation and that this cleavage event takes place cosecretionally.