To study the maturity of the adrenal cortex in preterms born before 33 wk of gestation, basal levels of cortisol and cortisone and the cortisol and 17-hydroxyprogesterone (17-OHP) response to 1 microg/kg adrenocorticotropic hormone stimulation were measured in 24 appropriate-for-gestational age preterm infants (26-33 wk; 690-1985 g). Gestational age influenced the response of cortisol, 17-OHP, and the ratio between cortisol/17-OHP in the studied infants. In preterms born <30 wk of gestation, levels of cortisol, and the ratio between cortisol/17-OHP were lower compared with preterms born between 30 and 33 wk. Levels of cortisone were higher in preterms born <30 wk, suggesting a lower activity of 11 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase that may be related to maturity as well. These findings indicate that the adrenal cortex function in preterm infants is closely related to the duration of gestation and may be important in neonatal morbidity.