Primary cultures of purified human cytotrophoblasts have been used to examine the expression of the corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) gene in placenta. We report here that glucocorticoids stimulate placental CRH synthesis and secretion in primary cultures of human placenta. This stimulation is in contrast to the glucocorticoid suppression of CRH expression in hypothalamus. The positive regulation of CRH by glucocorticoids suggests that the rise in CRH preceding parturition could result from the previously described rise in fetal glucocorticoids. Furthermore, this increase in placental CRH could stimulate, via adrenocorticotropic hormone, a further rise in fetal glucocorticoids, completing a positive feedback loop that would be terminated by delivery.