Specific binding of [3H]oxytocin to high affinity sites (hormone receptors) in membrane preparations from uterine tissues of the ewe has been determined at varying stages of the oestrous cycle and in pregnancy. Mean receptor concentrations in caruncular and inter-caruncular endometrium and in myometrium were 14·2, 1·9 and 13·0 fmol/mg protein respectively between days 10 and 13 of the cycle. By the day of oestrus these values had increased to 749, 1085 and 179 fmol/mg protein. These increases in receptor concentrations coincided with luteolysis and falling plasma progesterone levels and followed the preovulatory decline in peripheral oxytocin and rise in ovarian venous oestradiol-17β. Receptor concentrations were low in all uterine tissues from pregnant animals between days 14 and 19 after oestrus. Analysis of binding parameters by Scatchard plot suggested a single population of receptor molecules in each of the tissues studied with apparent dissociation constants in the range 1·9–2·2 nmol/l. A number of naturally occurring neurohypophysial peptides inhibited binding of [3H]oxytocin to the receptor from ewes at oestrus; the cross-reactions of arginine vasopressin and vasotocin exceeded that of oxytocin.
Use of a receptor binding assay to measure oxytocin in extracts of corpora lutea on days 4 and 10 after oestrus gave values similar to those obtained by radioimmunoassay, suggesting the absence of other receptor-active peptides in the corpus luteum.
It is concluded that the oxytocin receptor is present in both components of the endometrium, as well as in the myometrium and that changes in uterine receptor concentrations before oestrus are consistent with receptor activation by steroid hormones.