Aside from its role as a hypothalamic stress hormone, corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH) is also a placental hormone, at least in primates. Although the function of placentally derived CRH remains to be fully elucidated, elevated CRH levels have been associated with premature labour, suggesting that the hormone may be involved in regulating the duration of pregnancy. Indeed, pregnant human myometrium expresses functional CRH receptors (CRH R1 and CRH R2 subtypes) thought to signal predominantly via the second messenger cAMP. Thus, like other cAMP-producing hormones in the myometrium such as β2 agonists, CRH may play a part in maintaining uterine quiescence. However, several of the CRH receptor isoforms identified to date have a reduced ability to activate adenylate cyclase, raising the question as to whether they are linked to other signal transduction pathways. Here, we discuss critically the evidence for the peptide's role in regulating contractility, both directly at the myometrium and indirectly via the fetal membranes and decidua. The possibility of a role in myometrial growth modulation is also described. Experimental Physiology (2001) 86.2, 273-281.