The adrenal participation in the pathogenesis of polycystic ovary syndrome is still under debate. In order to reappraise androgen and glucocorticoid secretion in this disease, we measured serum androstenedione, dehydroepiandrosterone-sulphate, total and free testosterone, sex hormone-binding globulin, LH, FSH, PRL, cortisol, corticosteroid-binding globulin, and urinary free cortisol in 45 women with polycystic ovary syndrome and 27 controls, subdivided in obese and normal-weight subjects. Androstenedione, total and free testosterone were significantly increased, whereas sex hormone-binding globulin tended to be reduced in patients with polycystic ovary syndrome compared with controls, reaching a significant difference between obese patients and matched controls. Free testosterone and sex hormone-binding globulin were significantly increased and reduced, respectively, in obese compared with normal-weight patients. Urinary free cortisol and serum corticosteroid-binding globulin were significantly increased (p<0.001) and decreased (p<0.005), respectively. Urinary free cortisol exceeded the upper limit of the normal range in 50% of our patients. No appreciable differences were found in PRL and cortisol levels. Besides confirming a hyperandrogenic state, our findings point to an overactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis with subsequent diminution of corticosteroid-binding globulin in polycystic ovary syndrome. They also indicate that urinary free cortisol is not a reliable index in differentiating polycystic ovary syndrome from Cushing's disease.