Oxytocin is used widely for the induction and augmentation of labour, but there is little information about the dynamics of oxytocin receptors in human myometrium during parturition, and the possible effect of oxytocin infusion. This information is important because G protein-coupled receptors, such as the oxytocin receptor, undergo desensitization after prolonged or repeated stimulation. The concentration of myometrial oxytocin receptors and the steady state of its mRNA were measured in patients undergoing Caesarean sections before or during spontaneous or induced labour. The concentration of receptors before labour was 477 (175-641) fmol mg(-1) protein (median, quartile range), and decreased to 140 (72-206; P < 0.05) and 118 (69-75; P < 0.01) fmol mg(-1) protein during prolonged oxytocin-augmented and oxytocin-induced labour, respectively. The corresponding oxytocin receptor mRNA concentrations decreased by 60- and 300-fold, respectively. The decrease in receptor binding and mRNA in women receiving oxytocin infusion indicates that homologous receptor desensitization occurs in vivo.