Ritodrine is a beta 2-adrenoceptor agonist used for the management of preterm labour. It is inactivated by conjugation with sulphate and glucuronic acid. There is more ritodrine sulphate than ritodrine glucuronide in urine from the newborn whereas equal amounts of ritodrine glucuronide and sulphate are excreted in maternal urine [Clin. Pharmacol. Ther 44, 634-641, 1988]. We show that, in the mid-gestational human fetal liver, ritodrine sulphotransferase is well expressed, whereas the glucuronidation of ritodrine is little developed compared to the adult liver. The average sulphotransferase activity was 308 pmol.min-1 per mg protein in fetal (N = 48) and 145 pmol.min-1 per mg protein in adult (N = 32) liver. The rates of ritodrine sulphation in fetal gut, lung and kidney were higher than in the corresponding adult tissues. The development and tissue distribution patterns of ritodrine sulphotransferase are consistent with those of dopamine sulphotransferase. Ritodrine and dopamine are sulphated by thermolabile enzymes. The activity of glucuronyl transferase was measurable in only 5 of the 48 foetal livers assayed, and in those in which could be assayed, the average activity was 44.6 pmol.min-1 per mg protein, one-tenth of that in adult livers (524 pmol.min-1 per mg protein).