Our enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for measuring human platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) detects nanogram quantities (ranging from 0.007 to 16 ng/100 microL) in purified PDGF standards. This assay is sensitive enough for studying plasma and urine. The range in normal volunteers was 0.6 to 2.3 micrograms/L for platelet-poor plasma and 1.4 to 3.3 micrograms/L for urine. We determined PDGF levels in the circulation (outside platelets) in patients with myeloproliferative diseases. Platelet-poor plasma and urine PDGF were significantly elevated in patients with myelofibrosis (6.2 +/- 2.0 micrograms/L for plasma; 7.8 +/- 2.4 micrograms/L for urine) and essential thrombocythemia (5.5 +/- 1.5 micrograms/L for plasma; 11.4 +/- 2.2 micrograms/L for urine), but not in patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia (2.1 +/- 0.4 micrograms/L for plasma; 2.8 +/- 1.2 micrograms/L for urine). Polycythemia vera produced an intermediate pattern: although plasma PDGF was within the normal range (2.1 +/- 0.2 micrograms/L), urine levels were increased (3.7 +/- 0.6 micrograms/L). These results show that PDGF is increased in the circulation in some but not all myeloproliferative diseases, and suggest that this is due to abnormal in vivo release from either megakaryocytes in the bone marrow or circulating platelets.