Progesterone (P4) has been reported to inhibit oxytocin (OT) binding to its receptor in isolated murine endometrial membranes. The purpose of the present research was to 1). examine the in vivo and in vitro effect of P4 on the binding of OT to its receptor in the ovine endometrium and 2). determine whether the endometrial plasma membranes have high-affinity binding sites for P4. Ovariectomized ewes were pretreated with a sequence of estradiol-17beta (2 days) and P4 (5 days) before being treated with estradiol-17beta plus either vehicle (corn oil), P4, or P4 + mifepristone (RU 486) for 3 consecutive days. Treatment of ewes with 10 mg P4/day for 3 days suppressed binding of OT (P < 0.01) compared with that of controls, whereas concomitant treatment with the progestin antagonist RU 486 (10 mg/day) blocked the effect of P4. Similarly, incubation of endometrial plasma membranes with P4 (5 ng/ml) inhibited binding of OT (P < 0.05), whereas this effect of P4 was blocked by the presence of RU 486 (10 ng/ml). By radioreceptor assay, the endometrial plasma membranes were found to contain a high-affinity binding site for P4 and the progestin agonist promegestone (Kd 1.2 x 10-9 and 1.74 x 10-10M, respectively). Incubation of endometrial plasma membranes with P4 (5 ng/ml) significantly increased the concentration of progestin binding sites. Binding of labeled promegestone (R 5020) was competitively inhibited by excess unlabeled R 5020, P4, RU 486, and OT but not by estradiol-17beta, cortisol, testosterone, and arginine vasopressin. These data suggest a direct suppressive action of P4 on the binding of OT to OT receptors in the ovine endometrial plasma membrane.