Infection is a major cause of preterm labor. Amniotic fluid from women in preterm labor associated with intrauterine infection contains increased concentrations of cytokines. The mechanism underlying this association may be a cytokine-mediated stimulation of amnion cell prostaglandin production. The biosynthesis of prostaglandins from arachidonic acid is regulated by the enzyme cyclooxygenase which exists in two forms; the constitutive form (COX-1) and the other mitogen inducible (COX-2). The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effect of the cytokine interleukin-4 (IL-4) on cyclooxygenase activity and PGE2 production in amnion. Amnion tissue was taken at caesarean section from term women not in labor and immediately incubated for 2 hours in media containing concentrations of IL-4 ranging from 1 to 100 ng/ml. An increase in both COX-2 enzyme and prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) production was observed for all concentrations of IL-4 greater than 25 ng/ml (P < 0.05, n = 8). No change in COX-1 was observed. Our data suggest that the cytokine IL-4 may be involved in the pathogenesis of premature labor by inducing COX-2 in amnion tissue resulting in increased production of PGE2 and subsequent myometrial activity.