In this study, we quantified interleukin-6 (IL-6) concentrations in amniotic fluid at term and preterm labour, and determined the gestational tissue source of IL-6. In addition, aspects of the regulatory mechanisms involved in IL-6 release at the time of term labour and in response to bacterial endotoxin, lipopolysaccharide (LPS), have been established. IL-6 concentrations were 2-fold higher in amniotic fluid collected at term compared with preterm gestation, with an additional 2-fold increase in association with term labour. IL-6 was released from all choriodecidual and placental explants but was detected in only 33% of amniotic explant cultures of tissues obtained before labour onset. In contrast, IL-6 was detected in all amniotic, choriodecidual and placental cultures of tissues obtained after term labour onset and delivery, and the mean IL-6 release was significantly higher than that measured in explant cultures of both amniotic (80-fold increase, P<0·0001) and choriodecidual (3-fold increase, P<0·02) but not placental explants taken at the time of elective Caesarean section at term before labour onset. LPS significantly (P<0·05) increased the release of IL-6 from human choriodecidual and placental explants but not amniotic explants, in a time- and dose-dependent manner. IL-6 is a physiological constituent of amniotic fluid and its production by gestational tissues is differentially regulated by LPS and spontaneous labour onset and delivery.