We studied the daily cortisol production rate in 33 normal children and adolescents, using a stable isotope-dilution technique employing high-performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. Two indwelling intravenous catheters were inserted and tracer 9,12,12-2H3-cortisol (deuterated cortisol) was infused continuously for 30 hours. After 6 hours of tracer infusion to allow for equilibration, blood was obtained every 20 minutes for 24 hours. The mean (+/- SD) cortisol production rate was 9.5 +/- 2.5 mg/day (6.8 +/- 1.9 mg/m2/day). Cortisol production rate did not vary with sex or pubertal stage. These results suggest that the cortisol production rate in children and adolescents is significantly lower than previously estimated.