Comparison of hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis suppression from superpotent topical steroids by standard endocrine function testing and gas chromatographic mass spectrometry

J Invest Dermatol. 1988 Apr;90(4):532-5. doi: 10.1111/1523-1747.ep12461062.


We evaluated 38 males who had psoriasis vulgaris for evidence of hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis suppression (HPAS) during treatment with superpotent topical glucocorticosteroids. All men were treated with 49 g per week of either Betamethasone Diproprionate in an optimized vehicle or Clobetasol Proprionate ointment. Three methods used to assess HPAS were compared. Classic 8 a.m. plasma cortisol measurements, urinary-free cortisol, and 17-hydroxycorticosteroid determinations and gas chromatograph-mass spectrometry (GCMS) quantitation of urinary cortisol metabolites were compared. Values for all methods were obtained just prior to therapy and at days 4, 7, 14, and 21 during therapy and at day 28 after treatment was stopped for 7 d. Plasma cortisol measurements correlated well with other measures of HPAS. GCMS determination of urinary cortisol metabolites was slightly more sensitive at detecting HPAS than the other two methods. Persistent HPAS after day 7 was only appreciated by GCMS. Urinary-free cortisol and 17-hydroxycortisol was the least sensitive of the three methods. Analysis of urinary cortisol metabolites by GCMS may be most useful in the monitoring of HPAS resulting from use of topical glucocorticosteroid preparations.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • 17-Hydroxycorticosteroids / urine
  • Administration, Topical
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology*
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Endocrine Glands / physiology*
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Hydrocortisone / urine
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / drug effects*
  • Male
  • Psoriasis / metabolism


  • 17-Hydroxycorticosteroids
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Hydrocortisone