Preterm labor is frequently associated with ascending intrauterine infection, accompanied by leukocytes infiltration and enhanced local production of cytokines and other inflammatory mediators. The resulting amplification of the inflammatory response, and of prostanoid production in particular, is postulated to be a principal mechanism of infection-driven preterm labor. In this review the effects of pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines are discussed with respect to the expression of enzymes involved in three key steps of prostanoid biosynthesis and metabolism: liberation of arachidonic acid (AA), conversion of AA to bioactive prostanoids, and prostanoid catabolism. We suggest that by exerting coordinate actions on all three key steps, through multiple molecular mechanisms, inflammatory cytokines acutely up-regulate prostanoid production in intrauterine tissues. (C) 1999 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.