Although minor disturbances of the circadian serum cortisol rhythm and diminished excretion of steroid metabolites have been reported in patients with atopic dermatitis, test assays regarding subtle neuroendocrine alterations have not been employed so far. We therefore studied the serum concentrations of cortisol, prolactin and adrenocorticotropin under baseline conditions, after 1 mg dexamethasone and after a defined methylprednisolone treatment in 15 patients with atopic dermatitis, in comparison with 10 healthy controls. The assessment of the hormones revealed no remarkable differences between either group at any of the blood sampling time points. However, in 3 patients and 2 control subjects, though exhibiting no concomitant disease, we could find no suppression of endogenous cortisol to below 5 micrograms/dl after oral intake of 1 mg dexamethasone. These cortisol non-suppressors showed lower dexamethasone serum concentrations in the morning after its administration, as compared with the suppressors. Acute (1 mg dexamethasone) or prolonged (40 mg methylprednisolone over 6 days) intake of glucocorticoids suppressed prolactin levels in both groups, demonstrating that the effect of glucocorticoids on the hormone system is not restricted to the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Our results indicate an intact feedback response of this hormonal axis to 1 mg dexamethasone and the ability of long-term as well as acute glucocorticoid administration to influence the prolactin secretion in patients with atopic dermatitis.