Uterine atony is a major cause of postpartum haemorrhage and maternal mortality. However, the comparative pharmacology of agents used to treat this condition is poorly understood. This study evaluates, using human pregnant myometrium in vitro, a range of contractile parameters for agents used in the clinical treatment of atonic postpartum haemorrhage. The effects of oxytocin, carbetocin, ergometrine, carboprost, syntometrine and misoprostol were investigated in 146 myometrial strips from 19 donors. The potency and maximal response values were obtained, and compared, using both maximal amplitude and mean contractile force as indices of contraction. Single, EC50 concentrations of the agents were administered and both force and contraction peak parameters were compared during a 15-min exposure. Differences were considered significant when P < 0.05. There were no significant differences in the peak amplitude of response between agents, except for misoprostol, which was inactive. There was a wide difference in potencies using both measures of contractility, with oxytocin and carbetocin being the most potent. The most important difference between the agents was in their ability to increase the mean contractile force, with oxytocin superior to all agents except syntometrine. In single dose experiments, mean contractile force was the parameter that separated the agents. In this respect, oxytocin was not statistically different from carboprost or syntometrine, but was superior to all other agents. These findings support a clear role for oxytocin as the first line agent for treatment of postpartum haemorrhage and raise doubts about the potential clinical usefulness of misoprostol. (C) 2016 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.