Oxytocin is released during parturition and may also play a role in maternal behaviour. Oxytocin, injected in the cerebral ventricles, has been reported to accelerate the onset of maternal behaviour in oestrogen-pretreated virgin Sprague—Dawley rats within 2 h of injection. This study was an attempt to replicate and extend these findings in Wistar rats. In the first experiment, 16 virgin females were ovariectomized and a cannula was placed into the cerebral ventricle. Forty-eight hours after a single injection of 24 μg oestradiol benzoate (OB), 400 ng oxytocin or saline were injected into the ventricle. In the second experiment three groups were observed: an untreated control group plus two ovariectomized and cannulated groups treated with OB in a regimen designed to mimic pregnancy. After 10 days of OB administration they received an injection of either saline or oxytocin (400 ng) into the ventricle. Immediately after this injection they were exposed to the pups and observations started. In both experiments no rat became maternal in the first 1·5 h after the intracerebroventricular injection. Oxytocin therefore did not induce a rapid onset of maternal responsiveness in oestrogen-pretreated Wistar rats.