Decidualisation of uterine stromal cells is a prerequisite for implantation of the embryo in mice. Here we have used an in vitro culture system in which stromal cells decidualise as indicated by a number of markers, including an increase in alkaline phosphatase (ALP) activity. The latter was used as a quantitative market of decidualisation in the presence flow (2%) fetal calf serum. Prostaglandin E-2 (PGE(2)), which is known to induce decidualisation, increased ALP activity, and this effect was blocked in a dose-dependent manner by indomethacin. Leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) was then examined, but it had no effect on PGE(2) secretion. However, LIF suppressed ALP activity in a dose-dependent manner in the presence of 2% serum, while an inhibitor of LIF that competes for binding to its receptor reversed the effect of LIF and increased ALP activity above the control level. In serum-free cultures, stromal cells differentiated rapidly, and no differences were observed between LIF-treated and untreated cultures. Stromal cells produce LIF during in vitro culture, and this peaked at 48 It. Freshly collected stromal cells from both day-2 and -4 pregnant mice expressed mRNA for the LIF receptor, and the transcript level was higher in cells isolated on day 4. However, no differences were observed in the relative levels of transcripts in cells from day 2 and day 4 after culture, nor were there differences between the LIF-treated cultures and controls. Therefore, in this study, we have shown that LIF suppresses decidualisation of murine uterine stromal cells in the presence of serum, this is not due to the regulation of PGE(2) secretion by stromal cells.