The function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis was evaluated in insulin-dependent diabetics without (group I, n = 10) or with (group II, n = 10) established symptomatic neuropathy and in age- and weight-matched normal controls (n = 11). Since the corticotropin (ACTH)/cortisol response to the minimal-effective dose of corticotropin-releasing hormone ([CRH] 0.03 microgram/kg body weight) represents a useful tool for HPA axis examination, all subjects were tested with the low-dose ovine CRH stimulation test. Experiments started at 8:30 AM, when CRH was injected after two basal blood samples were withdrawn, and lasted 2 hours. Basal serum levels of ACTH were similar in the three groups. Administration of CRH induced a small but significant increase in ACTH levels in all subjects; however, the CRH-induced ACTH increase was significantly higher in normal controls than in diabetic groups I and II. Furthermore, a significantly lower ACTH response was observed in group II than in group I. In contrast, basal and CRH-induced cortisol levels were significantly higher in diabetics than in normal controls. Comparisons between diabetic groups showed that both basal and stimulated cortisol secretion was significantly higher in group II than in group I. When peak ACTH responses to CRH and basal cortisol levels were combined, a significant negative correlation was found (r = .545, P < .02). These data show that even uncomplicated diabetes mellitus is associated with adrenal hyperfunction. Such an alteration is more pronounced in the presence of neuropathy.