Our purpose was to investigate the direct depressant effects of desflurane and sevoflurane at 0.5, 1 and 2 minimum alveolar concentrations (MAC) on spontaneous contractions of isolated gravid rat myometrium. Ten gravid, albino Wistar rats, weighing 240-310 g and at 19-20 days' gestation were used. Sixty myometrial strips were obtained from 10 rats, and randomly assigned into six groups of 10. After obtaining spontaneous myometrial contractions in de Jalon solution for 45 min, 0.5, 1 or 2 MAC of desflurane or sevoflurane were continuously bubbled in the bath for 15 min and myometrial contractions evaluated during the last 10 min. Desflurane 0.5 MAC did not affect duration or amplitude of spontaneous contractions, but frequency was significantly decreased (P < 0.05). Duration, amplitude and frequency were all significantly decreased by desflurane I and 2 MAC (P < 0.05). Sevoflurane did not affect duration, amplitude or frequency at 0.5 MAC, but amplitude and frequency were significantly decreased at I MAC and all were significantly decreased at 2 MAC (P < 0.05). The frequency of contractions was decreased 21.2% with 1 MAC desflurane versus 17.1% with I MAC sevoflurane. The amplitude and frequency of contractions were decreased 48.2% and 48.7% with 2 MAC desflurane versus 58.9% and 49.3% with 2 MAC sevoflurane, respectively. We suggest that due to tocolytic activity, desflurane and sevoflurane can be useful in non-obstetric surgery during pregnancy. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.