Although somatostatin inhibits a variety of pituitary and non-pituitary hormones, not univocal data on its effects on ACTH release have been reported so far. In this study we investigated the effects of somatostatin or octreotide on ACTH levels of patients with corticotropin hypersecretion: 7 patients with Addison's disease, 2 patients previously adrenalectomized for Cushing's disease, 4 patients with Cushing's disease and 3 patients with ectopic ACTH syndrome. Plasma ACTH and cortisol levels were determined after somatostatin (500 micrograms over 60 min) infusion or octreotide (100 micrograms sc) injection. In 5 other patients with Cushing's disease ACTH and cortisol responses to CRH (1 microgram/kg iv) were evaluated in basal conditions and after octreotide acute administration. In no patients with Addison's disease any inhibitory influence of somatostatin (delta % = -21, -25) or octreotide (delta % = -38 +/- 12 vs -39 +/- 12 after saline) on plasma ACTH was found. Somatostatin did not significantly inhibit plasma ACTH in the two patients previously adrenalectomized for Cushing's disease and in 3 patients with Cushing's syndrome; in other 4 patients with Cushing's syndrome octreotide did not affect plasma ACTH levels. In 5 patients with Cushing's disease the plasma ACTH and cortisol responses to CRH were similar both before (ACTH from 9.9 +/- 1.7 pmol/L to 19.4 +/- 6.1 pmol/L; cortisol from 496 +/- 43.9 nmol/L to 923 +/- 355 nmol/L) and after octreotide injection (ACTH from 8.8 +/- 2.4 pmol/L to 19.1 +/- 8.2 pmol/L; cortisol from 510 +/- 54.6 nmol/L to 735 +/- 220 nmol/L). In conclusion, the acute administration of somatostatin or octreotide is not able to modify ACTH levels in patients with corticotropin hypersecretion either due to hypocortisolemic state or consequent to ACTH-secreting pituitary or ectopic tumors; moreover, octreotide does not affect the pituitary-adrenal responsiveness to CRH in patients with Cushing's disease.