In summary, these studies have suggested that prostaglandin dehydrogenase may have a central role to play in the mechanisms which determine biologically active prostaglandin concentrations within human fetal membranes and placenta at the time of labor, at term or preterm. Moreover, our studies indicate that the regulation of PGDH may by multifactorial (figure 3). In certain regions of the membranes, we suggest that PGDH expression may be influenced by levels of anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory cytokines. In other regions of the membranes, we suggest that PGDH may be regulated at a transcriptional level by competing activities of progesterone and cortisol. The action of progesterone could be effected through systemically-derived steroid, or by locally synthesized steroid, acting in a paracrine and/or autocrine fashion. The effects of cortisol in placenta must be due to glucocorticoid derived from the maternal or fetal compartment, since the placenta lacks the hydroxylases required for endogenous cortisol production. However, metabolism of cortisol by 11β-HSD-2 reduces the potency of this glucocorticoid in placental tissue. In chorion however, cortisol may be formed locally, from cortisone, in addition to its being derived from the maternal circulation and/or from the amniotic fluid. Our current studies do not allow us to delineate whether the effects of progesterone and cortisol on PGDH are exerted through the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) or progesterone receptor (PR) or both. It is possible that through pregnancy, PGDH activity is maintained by progesterone acting either through low levels of PR in membranes, or, more likely, acting through GR. At term, elevated levels of cortisol compete with and displace progesterone from GR, resulting in inhibition of PGDH transcription and activity. In this way, local withdrawal of progesterone action would be effected within human intrauterine tissues, without requiring changes in systemic, circulating progesterone concentrations. Since glucocorticoids appear also to increase expression of prostaglandin synthesizing enzymes within the amnion and chorion, directly by upregulating PGHS-2, or indirectly through the intermediary action of a paracrine effector such as CRH, their role in coordinating processes of parturition remains central. Further understanding of the regulation of PGDH may be of therapeutic importance. For example, it is possible that PGDH activity in lower segment chorion may be reduced in those patients with premature cervical softening, or may be particularly high in those patients with an unfavorable cervix, presenting with a low Bishop score and poor progression at the time of labor. If the enzyme in this region crucially determines the passage and availability of biologically active prostaglandins from amnion and chorion to underlying cervix, then pharmacologic manipulation of PGDH activity may effectively regulate PG transfer in these clinical conditions. Glucocorticoids appear to have a central role in promoting production of agents that are uterotonic to myometrial activity. It is likely that these activities explain the transient increments in uterine contractility reported in patients receiving prenatal corticosteroids to promote fetal pulmonary maturity . Recognition of this physiology suggests that careful monitoring of these patients is advised, and would argue further against repeated, indiscriminate, use of glucocorticoids in patients with an inappropriate diagnosis of threatened preterm labor.