We determined the adrenostatic potential of low-dose nonhypnotic etomidate in six patients with Cushing's syndrome (ectopic Cushing's syndrome,n=2; Cushing's disease,n=3; bilateral adrenal adenoma,n=1). Etomidate was given as a continuous infusion for 32 h in a dose of 2.5 mg/h (n=5) or 0.3 mg/kg/h (n=3), respectively. Saline was given during a control period. The responsiveness to exogenous ACTH was studied during placebo and 7 and 31 h after commencing etomidate by administration of 250 µg 1–24 ACTH i.v. Etomidate (2.5 mg/h) led to a consistent decrease in serum cortisol in all patients from a mean of 39.4±13.3 to 21.1±5.7 µg/dl after 7 h (P<0.05 compared with placebo). After 24 h cortisol was reduced further to a mean steady state concentration of 12.3±5.7 µg/dl (P<0.05). At the end of the infusion period the cortisol increase in response to ACTH was reduced but not abolished. In contrast, a dose of 0.3 mg/kg/h etomidate induced unresponsiveness of serum cortisol to exogenous ACTH within 7 h. However, sedation was observed in two out of three patients at this dose, while during etomidate in a dose of 2.5 mg/h no side effects were seen. We conclude that low-dose non-hypnotic etomidate reduces serum cortisol to within the normal range in patients with Cushing's syndrome. The possibility to dissociate the adrenostatic effect of etomidate from its hypnotic action, the absence of side effects, and the i.v. route suggest that etomidate in a dose of 0.04–0.05 mg/kg/h may become the drug of choice for rapid initial control of hypercortisolism.