There is emerging evidence that cortisol plays a significantly greater role in human hypertension than previously thought. Apart from the well recognized role of cortisol in the hypertension of Cushing's syndrome, local cortisol excess has been recognized as responsible for rare forms of hypertension such as apparent mineralocorticoid excess and licorice abuse and more recently implicated in the hypertension of chronic renal failure, hypertension related to low birth weight and essential hypertension. Although cortisol-induced hypertension is characterized by sodium retention and volume expansion, studies with synthetic glucocorticoids or sodium restriction suggest that the hypertension is, to a substantial degree, independent of sodium and volume. Increase in cardiac output is not essential for cortisol-induced blood pressure rise but the precise role of increases in total or regional peripheral resistance as a primary mechanism has nto been determined. Increased pressor responsiveness, particularly to catechols, is a prominent feature but whether these changes are sufficient to account for the hypertension remains unclear. There is no evidence for increased sympathetic nervous activity as judged by measurements of plasma catcholamines, neuropeptide-Y, or resting noradrenaline spillover rate. Responses to mental stress or maximal hand-grip are unchanged and baroreflex sensitivity is increased. Octreotide profoundly reduced the elevated plasma insulin concentrations seen with cortisol administration but had no effect on the rise in blood pressure.