Despite oxytocin receptors (OTR) being present in human chorio-decidual tissues, their expression and role in placental trophoblast cells in the context of tumor growth or physiological functions related to cell proliferation have never been examined. In the present study we demonstrate the presence and functionality of OTR in normal human trophoblast cell lines (ED77 and ED27) and a choriocarcinoma cell line (BeWo). RT-PCR and immunofluorescence analysis revealed the presence of OTR messenger RNA and protein in these cells. Binding studies using [(125)I]oxytocin ([(125)I]OT) antagonist confirmed the presence of specific binding sites in ED27, ED77, and BeWo cells. OTR functionality was demonstrated by measuring the OT-induced increase in the intracellular calcium concentrations. This effect was dose dependent and was blocked by the selective OT antagonist d(CH(2))(5)[Tyr(Me)(2),Thr(4), Tyr-NH(2)(9)]OVT (OT antagonist). Furthermore, two proteins with apparent molecular masses of 125 and 60 kDa became tyrosine phosphorylated in all of the cell lines after OT stimulation (and an additional protein of 45 kDa in BeWo choriocarcinoma cells), suggesting that this peptide can stimulate tyrosine kinase activity. Finally, we observed a dose-dependent OT stimulation of cell proliferation associated with OTR activation that was completely abolished by the selective OT antagonist. These findings provide the first evidence of the presence of functional OTR in normal trophoblast cell lines as well as in choriocarcinoma cells and show that a specific effect of OT on normal and neoplastic trophoblast is to promote cellular proliferation.