Amplitude modulation of a burstlike mode of cortisol secretion subserves the circadian glucocorticoid rhythm

Am J Physiol. 1989 Jul;257(1 Pt 1):E6-14. doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.1989.257.1.E6.


We have examined the mechanism subserving the in vivo circadian rhythm of cortisol in men. To this end, blood samples were withdrawn at 10-min intervals for 24 h in each of six men to yield well-defined profiles of episodic cortisol release. A novel multiple-parameter deconvolution model was applied to discriminate the number, amplitudes, and durations of all statistically significant underlying cortisol secretory bursts from the plasma hormone concentrations and simultaneously estimate the endogenous half-life of cortisol disappearance in each subject. These experiments disclosed randomly occurring cortisol secretory bursts at a mean frequency of 19 +/- 0.82 events per day (interpulse interval 77 +/- 4.0 min). Secretory bursts exhibited a mean half-duration (duration at half-maximal amplitude) of only 16 +/- 0.61 min indicating that 95% of daily cortisol secretion occurred in 8.2 h. Cortisol secretory burst frequency varied 2.2-fold over 24 h, whereas cortisol secretory burst amplitude varied 6.6-fold. We conclude that the nyctohemeral pattern of cortisol variation in vivo can be accounted for by an amplitude-modulated, random burstlike mode of cortisol secretion without the need to postulate a tonic mode of cortisol release.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Half-Life
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Periodicity
  • Regression Analysis


  • Hydrocortisone