Successful implantation is a highly coordinated process involving changes in cytokines, adhesion molecules, hormones, enzymes and growth factors. This study examines the expression of key cytokines and vascular surface molecules in the pregnant uterus of sheep around the time of implantation. Uterine tissues and uterine washings were collected from non-pregnant and pregnant sheep at 17-19 days post-coitus (dpc), 26-27 and 34-36 dpc. Reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) analysis of caruncular/placentomal tissues revealed that cytokines IL-2, IL-4 and IL-8, which were not detected in non-pregnant uterus, were induced more strongly at 26-27 dpc than at other stages of pregnancy tested. Cytokines LIF, IL-6, IL-10, TNF-alpha were also most highly expressed at 26-27 dpc, expression of them being lower at other time-points during early pregnancy and non-pregnancy. The cytokines IL-1beta, IFN-gamma and TGF-beta were expressed in all non-pregnant and pregnant tissues examined. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) performed on uterine washings clearly detected the presence of IL-1alpha protein at 26-27 and 34-36 dpc. Immunohistochemistry revealed that expression of vascular adhesion molecule VCAM-1 in endometrial endothelium was strongly induced at 26-27 dpc in the pregnant endometrium. Expression of CD5 on vascular endothelium was not induced in placentomal tissues until 26-27 dpc and was further increased by 34-36 dpc. These results demonstrate a dynamic change in a wide range of cytokines during early stages of pregnancy, with a critical period around 26-27 dpc. In addition, at 26-27 dpc, expression of the surface/adhesion molecules, CD5 and VCAM-1, is induced on vascular endothelium of the sheep endometrium, possibly as a direct consequence of the changed cytokine environment, and may be involved in directing the changes in leucocyte migration observed during pregnancy.