Pregnant rats were ovariectomized (or shamovariectomized) on days 17, 18 or 21 of pregnancy and oestradiol-17β and progesterone were replaced. Prepartum oxytocin concentrations were significantly lower in ovariectomized steroid-treated rats than in intact controls, and on day 21 of pregnancy injection of relaxin into acutely ovariectomized rats significantly increased plasma oxytocin concentrations. During parturition, injection of the opioid antagonist naloxone induced significant increases in plasma oxytocin concentration compared with salineinjected rats. The naloxone-induced increase was significantly less in ovariectomized steroid-treated rats than in rats with intact ovaries, indicating that endogenous opioid activity is less in ovariectomized rats than in intact rats. The progress of parturition in the ovariectomized steroid-treated rats was severely disrupted compared with sham-ovariectomized rats despite similar plasma oxytocin levels at the birth of pup number 2; this disruption was not overcome by injection of naloxone or by the consequent increase in oxytocin secretion, indicating deficient preparation of the uterus and birth canal in the absence of relaxin. We conclude that the decreased oxytocin concentrations prepartum, the prolongation of parturition and the decrease in opioid tone in ovariectomized steroid-treated rats may be partly due to a lack of relaxin produced by the ovary.