The etiology of the SAS is unknown. To test whether endogenous opioids could be pathologically active in SAS, markers of opioid systems were measured in the CSF of 15 patients with SAS and in control subjects. Measured by receptor assay, the concentration of so-called fraction 1 opioid was higher in patients with SAS (3.0 +/- 1.5 pmol/ml; mean +/- SD) than in control subjects (1.1 +/- 0.5 pmol/ml) (p less than 0.01), whereas that of fraction 2 opioid was similar in the two groups. Beta-endorphin-like activity, measured by radioimmunoassay, was somewhat lower in patients with SAS (14.0 +/- 2.8 pmol/ml) than in control subjects (21.8 +/- 7.6 pmol/ml) (p less than 0.05). Six months after surgical treatment of the soft palate, new measurements were made in eight patients. Fraction 2 endorphin and beta-endorphin showed no consistent changes. A decrease in the level of fraction 1 from 4.1 +/- 1.5 pmol/ml to 2.3 +/- 1.0 pmol/ml (p less than 0.02) was noted in those six patients showing a successful clinical course. The data support the hypothesis that in SAS the opioid activity is increased.