The continuous 24-h infusion of a maximally stimulating dose (1 μg/kg per h) of ovine corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) in man caused a modest elevation of plasma cortisol (17.2 ± 1.4 μg/dl) and urinary-free cortisol (173 ± 43 μg/24 h) concentrations, which was far less than that seen with a maximally stimulating dose of ACTH (50.4 ± 2.2 μg/dl and 1,200 ± 94 μg/24 h, respectively). The circadian rhythms of plasma ACTH and cortisol were preserved during CRF administration. An intravenous bolus injection of 1 μg/kg of ovine CRF given to normal volunteers under basal conditions resulted in elevated plasma ACTH and cortisol peak levels (28 ± 6 pg/ml and 15.0 ± 1.0 μg/dl, respectively). However, no plasma ACTH and cortisol responses were observed when an identical CRF stimulation test was given at the end of the continuous infusion. These findings suggest that the stimulatory activity of exogenous CRF on the ACTH-secreting cells of the pituitary gland is restrained by the negative feedback of cortisol. The persistent circadian rhythm of ACTH, despite a constant level of plasma CRF during the infusion, suggests that the circadian variation in the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis cannot be explained solely by circadian periodicity of the endogenous CRF stimulus.
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