Cervical competence is a key function in normal and abnormal labour. Remodelling of the cervical structure, by reorientation and changes in the integrity of collagen fibres by an alteration in the content of water, proteoglycans and hyaluronic acid, takes place before parturition. Such morphological changes have been associated with the activation of several biochemical pathways, sharing those of an apyretic, proinflammatory reaction, including the inducible isoform of the nitric oxide synthase (NOS). Nitric oxide (NO) is believed to be the final mediator in the mechanisms that allow ripening of the cervix. A reduction of NO activity in the uterus, together with its activation in the cervix, is hypothesised to be a facilitating factor in human parturition. The local application of NO donors in both animals and humans induces ultrastructural changes similar to those occurring during physiological cervical maturation. NO donors have proven to be clinically effective in facilitating first trimester dilation and curettage. Preliminary data also suggest that in women presenting with threatening preterm labour, there is increased activity of NO in the cervix, which is associated with shortening. A complex interaction between cytokines, prostaglandins (PGs) and NO is the key biochemical pathway accounting for the preterm ripening of the cervix.