Gap junctions between smooth muscle cells of the myometrium of pregnant rats were found only immediately prior to, during and immediately after parturition by quantitative thin-section and freeze-fracture microscopy. Ovariectomy of 16- to 17-days-pregnant rats resulted in premature termination of pregnancy and the appearance of gap junctions. Methods that prolonged normal pregnancy in rats or maintained pregnancy in ovariectomized animals (progesterone treatment) prevented the appearance of gap junctions. Gap junctions formed in tissues incubated for 24--96 h in vitro without any hormonal influence. We propose that gap junctions are essential for normal labor and delivery for synchronous contraction of the muscle of the uterus. We present a model for control of parturition that may apply to other animals including humans. The model proposes: 1) the possible roles progesterone, prostaglandins, or estrogens may play in initiating gap-junction formation; 2) that the formation of gap junctions is a necessary step in activation of the myometrium leading to labor; and 3) that agents used to stimulate or inhibit labor may do so by affecting gap junctions.