The developing hypothalamic--pituitary--adrenal axis (HPAA) may be immature and not yet fully functional in preterm infants. This may result in an inappropriate adrenal response to stress. Little is known about the pituitary--adrenal response to corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) stimulation during the early neonatal period in preterm infants born before 32 weeks of gestation. Therefore, in a first study we investigated the pituitary--adrenal response to 1 microg/kg CRH i.v. in 13 preterm infants born less-than-or-equal 32 weeks of gestation. In addition, in a randomized placebo-controlled study we compared the pituitary--adrenal response of 1 microg/kg CRH to placebo and stimulation with 2 microg/kg CRH.