Recent evidence suggests that leukocytes infiltrate uterine tissues at or around the time of parturition, implicating inflammation as a key mechanism of human labor. MCP-1 (also known as C-C chemokine motif ligand 2, CCL-2) is a proinflammatory cytokine that is up-regulated in human myometrium during labor. Myometrium was collected from pregnant rats across gestation and at labor. Total RNA and proteins were subjected to real-time PCR and ELISA, respectively. Ccl-2 gene and protein expression was significantly up-regulated in the gravid rat myometrium before and during labor, which might suggest that it is regulated positively by mechanical stretch of the uterus imposed by the growing fetus and negatively by physiological withdrawal of progesterone (P4). We confirmed in vivo that: 1) administration of P4 receptor antagonist RU486 induced an increase in Ccl-2 mRNA and preterm labor, whereas 2) artificial maintenance of elevated P4 levels at late gestation caused a significant decrease in gene expression and blocked labor; 3) Ccl-2 was elevated specifically in the gravid horn of unilaterally pregnant rats suggesting that mechanical strain imposed by the growing fetus controls its expression in the myometrium; 4) in vitro static mechanical stretch of primary rat myometrial smooth muscle cells (25% elongation) induced a release of Ccl-2 protein, which was repressed by pretreatment with P4 (1 mu M); and 5) stretch enhanced their monocyte chemoattractant activity. These data indicate that Ccl-2 protein serves to integrate mechanical and endocrine signals contributing to uterine inflammation and the induction of labor and thus may represent a novel target for therapeutic prevention of preterm labor in humans.