This study has localised oxytocin receptor (OTR) mRNA expression within the cervix of non-pregnant ewes and related this to changes in the sensitivity of the cervical musculature to administered oxytocin (OT) during the oestrous cycle by recording electromyographic (EMG) activity. Cervices were collected from 34 ewes at specified time points throughout the cycle. OTR mRNA expression was localised by in situ hybridisation and results were expressed as optical density measurements from autoradiographs in each of four different cervical regions. EMG recordings were made for up to 8 h per day from four non-pregnant ewes undergoing seasonal oestrous cycles between Days -3 and +3 relative to oestrus (Day 0). The highest concentrations of OTR mRNA were detectable within the luminal epithelium (LE) of the cervix, with values increasing from Day 15 of the cycle, peaking during the follicular phase (P<0.001, compared to the mid-luteal phase) and returning to basal by Day 2. There was a small but significant increase in OTR mRNA hybridisation (above basal/luteal phase values) within the stromal cells (STR) adjacent to the lumen (P<0.05) during the same time period, but no differences from basal values were detectable in the dense collagenous annular ring or in tissue superficial to this. Analysis of pooled EMG activity recorded daily from the cervix indicated that endogenous contractile activity was higher on Day 0 than on the Days +1 (P<0.05), -2, +2 and +3 (P<0.001). The response to bolus intravenous (i.v.) injections of 25 mU OT (25 mU) varied with day of the cycle. This dose produced a measurable and significant response on Days 0 (P<0.001) and +1 (P<0.001), but not on any of the other days, indicating that the sensitivity of the cervical musculature to OT peaked on these days. These data show that the cervix is highly responsive to OT at oestrus. This coincides with an increase in OTR mRNA expression in the luminal epithelial cells, suggesting the likely production of an intermediary messenger between the epithelial and smooth muscle cells.