The dexamethasone suppression test (DST) has been suggested as an effective tool for differentiating between depression and dementia. After administering 1 mg dexamethasone, we measured cortisol, ACTH, and beta-endorphin levels in 32 nondepressed patients with idiopathic Parkinson's disease (PD) (14 also with dementia) and 20 healthy, age-matched controls. Four of the 20 controls, 9 of the 18 with PD alone, and 8 of the 14 with PD and dementia were dexamethasone nonsuppressors (cortisol value ≥ 5 μg/100 ml). Plasma ACTH and beta-endorphin responded in a coupled way to dexamethasone challenge. Higher basal levels of both peptides were found among PD patients (demented and nondemented), nonresponders to DST. Thus, the DST does not appear to be effective in differentiating between depression and dementia in PD. In addition, PD nonsuppressors showed higher basal values of plasma ACTH, beta-endorphin, and cortisol (similar to patients with major depression). This suggests that although the depression is clinically undetectable, both disorders may share some pathophysiological features at the hypothalamic hypophyseal adrenal level.