The molecular mechanisms regulating human uterine quiescence and parturition are poorly understood. Potassium channels are central to regulation of cell membrane potential and contractility of smooth muscle. The aim of this study was to examine the expression of ATP-sensitive potassium channel (K-ATP channel) subunits in human myometrium, and to investigate for possible differential expression of these subunits in myometrium obtained from three different functional states: (i) non-pregnant (NP); (ii) late pregnant not in labour (PNL); and (iii) late pregnant in labour (PL). RT-PCR detected the presence of mRNA for four subunits of K-ATP channels (Kir6.1, Kir6.2, SUR1 and SUR2B) in the three tissue types. Quantitative analysis of these subunits was achieved with real-time RT-PCR using Lightcycler(TM) technology. This analysis showed that there were significantly higher levels of Kir6.1 and SUR2B transcripts in NP myometrium compared with those measured in myometrium obtained during pregnancy (P < 0.001). Lower levels of Kir6.2 and SUR1 mRNA expression were found, although higher transcript levels in NP myometrium, (P < 0.05) were still observed. Our results indicate that the major K-ATP channel expressed in human myometrium. is composed of Kir6.1 and SUR2B, and that down-regulation of this channel may facilitate myometrial function during late pregnancy.