In mammalian plasma, cortisol binds to a specific alpha 1-glycoprotein: corticosteroid-binding globulin (CBG). In this study, we measured the protein binding of cortisol by equilibrium dialysis in seven species in which plasma cortisol concentrations varied from 0.02 to 0.05 (ewe, dog, cow) to 0.1 to 0.6 (horse, human, cynomolgus monkey) to reach 1.6 microM (squirrel monkey). No binding of cortisol to CBG was discernible in plasma from squirrel monkey. In all other species examined, we showed that the CBG maximal capacity (Bmax) was 3 (1.7 to 5.2) times more than the plasma cortisol levels, with cow, dog, ewe exhibiting the lowest and cynomolgus monkey exhibiting the highest values. We also noted the existence of a linear relationship between Bmax and the corresponding dissociation constant (Kd), Bmax being systematically 10 (8.5 to 11.8) times more than Kd. The low binding affinity of cortisol assigned to albumin did not differ between species. The free (6 to 14%), CBG-bound (67 to 87%), and albumin-bound (7 to 19%) cortisol fractions calculated from the estimated binding parameters and measured plasma cortisol concentrations were similar within species, except for squirrel monkey, in which half of the cortisol was albumin bound, and the other half remained protein free. Our most appealing finding was that in most species, as much as 68% of plasma CBG remained free of cortisol under physiologic conditions. These results are discussed with respect to the theories concerning the role of CBG in plasma transport and the local delivery of cortisol and free CBG as a proper hormone.