Several authors have reported attenuated adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH) responses to corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) administration in melancholic patients as compared with healthy controls. In order to explore the integrity of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA)-axis in melancholics, we examined the following parameters in 98 subjects: the ACTH; β-endorphin; and cortisol responses to ovine CRF (oCRF) (100 μg/i.v.); and the postdexamethasone cortisol values. We found significant lower CRF-induced ACTH responses in melancholic patients as opposed to healthy controls and minor depressives, while major depressives occupied an intermediate position. The psychopathological correlates of the blunted CRF-induced ACTH responses were feelings of worthlessness, self-reproach, or excessive guilt. The CRF-stimulated β-endorphin and cortisol response did not differ between the study samples. Higher baseline plasma cortisol was associated with attenuated CRF-induced ACTH responses, but these effects were not pertinent to melancholia. There were no relationships between the disordered oCRF test results, and postdexamethasone cortisol values, age, body size, sex and severity of illness. The diagnostic power of the oCRF and the dexamethasone suppression test for melancholia is enhanced when both test results are combined.