European Journal of Endocrinology

 Simultaneous assay of cortisol and dexamethasone improved diagnostic accuracy of the dexamethasone suppression test

The overnight dexamethasone (DXM) suppression test (DST) has high sensitivity, but moderate specificity, for diagnosing hypercortisolism. We have evaluated if simultaneous measurement of S-DXM may correct for variable DXM bioavailability and increase the diagnostic performance of DST, and if saliva (sa) is a feasible adjunct or alternative to serum.

Design and methods

Prospective study of DST was carried out in patients with suspected Cushing’s syndrome (CS) (n = 49), incidentaloma (n = 152) and healthy controls (n = 101). Cortisol, cortisone and DXM were assayed by liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry (LC–MS/MS).


Three hundred and two subjects underwent DST; S-cortisol was ≥50 nmol/L in 83 patients, of whom 11 had CS and 27 had autonomous cortisol secretion. The lower 2.5 percentile of S-DXM in subjects with negative DST (n = 208) was 3.3 nmol/L, which was selected as the DXM cut-off level. Nine patients had the combination of low S-DXM and positive DST. Of these, three had been misdiagnosed as having autonomous cortisol secretion. DST results were highly reproducible and confirmed in a replication cohort (n = 58). Patients with overt CS had significantly elevated post-DST sa-cortisol and sa-cortisone levels compared with controls; 23 of 25 with autonomous cortisol secretion had elevated sa-cortisone and 14 had elevated sa-cortisol.


Simultaneous measurement of serum DXM and cortisol reduced false-positive DSTs by 20% and improved the specificity. S-DXM >3.3 nmol/L is sufficient for the suppression of cortisol <50 nmol/L. Measurement of glucocorticoids in saliva is a non-invasive and easy procedure and post-DST sa-cortisone was found particularly useful in the diagnosis of CS.