OBJECTIVES: In about 15-20% of patients with ACTH-dependent Cushing's syndrome the source of ACTH is outside the pituitary gland. Pulmonary tumours are the most frequent, yet not unique, source of ectopic ACTH. In some instances the localisation of an ACTH-secreting tumour may be problematic. Occult ectopic ACTH secretion indicates the occurrence of ACTH-dependent hypercortisolism with an unknown origin. Another peculiarity of Cushing's syndrome may reside in the episodic cortisol hypersecretion, which can determine a pattern characterised by hypercortisolism together with periods of remission (cyclic Cushing's syndrome). We describe a very challenging case of Cushing's syndrome due to ectopic ACTH hypersecretion, showing virtually all of the most unusual features of the disease. DESIGN: A 55-year-old woman affected by Cushing's syndrome, presenting with biochemical features of ectopic ACTH secretion, has been followed for 7 years. METHODS: Thorough basal and dynamic hormonal assessment through the past 7 years is reported. In addition, the results of extensive imaging studies are presented. RESULTS: The source of ACTH secretion has not been identified so far, and hypercortisolism has been controlled by octreotide treatment. In addition, the patient showed a cyclic pattern of hypercortisolism with a long-term remission period. A unique feature of this case is represented by the fact that we observed a temporary, yet dramatic, short-lasting remission of ACTH and cortisol hypersecretion during a pulmonary infection, which occurred while the patient was hospitalised for a periodic hormonal assessment. CONCLUSIONS: This case well represents the wide spectrum of clinical variability of Cushing's syndrome. Most interestingly, to our knowledge, this is the first report of a case of Cushing's syndrome showing a remission during an acute infection.