The oxytocin receptor antagonist [1-deamino-2-D-Tyr-(OEt)-4-Thr-8-Om]-oxytocin (Atosiban) is a specific antagonist of both mesotocin- and oxytocin-induced myometrial contractions in late pregnant tammars in vitro. Continuous intravenous infusion of Atosiban (1 mg kg-1 day-1) for 3 or 7 days from day 24 of the 26.5 day gestation significantly delayed births. In both the 3 day and 7 day infusion groups, all 15 control animals were pregnant and gave birth within the normal time (day 26.75 +/- 0.20, mean +/- SEM), during the infusion of saline. The neonates weighed 387 +/- 8 mg. Deliveries were observed in 15 Atosiban-treated animals significantly (P < 0.05) later than in the controls (day 27.85 +/- 0.19; neonate weight 413 +/- 9 mg). All pouch young were successfully suckled, even in the continued presence of Atosiban. Baseline plasma concentrations of the prostaglandin F metabolite (PGFM) in pregnant tammars were < 200 pg ml-1. A surge in plasma PGFM occurred at birth (811 +/- 116 pg ml-1), followed by a rapid fall to baseline concentrations within 1 h after birth. This was observed both in saline- and in Atosiban-treated animals that gave birth during the observation period, and did not differ significantly between the treatment groups. Plasma progesterone concentrations in the control and the Atosiban-treated animals showed the normal pattern of luteolysis immediately after birth. Thus, infusion of an oxytocin receptor antagonist at the end of gestation delays birth, the peripartum surge in prostaglandin release, and the fall in progesterone, suggesting that mesotocin is an important part of the hormonal cascade associated with delivery in this marsupial.