Two ovine stem cell factor (oSCF) cDNAs (822 bp and 738 bp) were generated from ovarian follicle mRNA by RT-PCR. Nucleotide sequencing revealed that the oSCF 822 bp cDNA encodes a precursor protein of 274 amino acids. An amino acid change 109E to 109Q was the only sequence difference from that previously described for this species. The smaller (738 bp) oSCF cDNA was shown by nucleotide sequencing to be an mRNA splice variant, equivalent to that found in other mammals, in which an exon (84 bp) encoding a potential proteolytic cleavage site is removed. Northern analysis revealed a single transcript of approximately 6·5 kb in follicles, corpora lutea and stroma of mid-luteal sheep ovaries. In situ hybridization was used to detect oSCF mRNA within ovaries of fetal sheep on days 90, 100, 120 and 135 of gestation (term=147) and of adult sheep within the breeding season. In fetal and adult ovaries, oSCF mRNA was detected in the granulosa cells of follicles at all stages of follicle growth (primordial through to antral). The SCF gene was also expressed in granulosa cells of atretic follicles but appeared to be down-regulated in the cumulus cells surrounding the oocyte at more advanced stages of atresia. In fetal ovaries at day 90 of gestation (90DG), oSCF was expressed in the subepithelial mesenchymal cells of the ovarian cortex. By 100DG the gene expression in the subepithelial cells became restricted to a narrow region below the epithelium, and areas of expression were observed in groups of cells around isolated oocytes, primordial and primary follicles. oSCF gene expression also occurred in the surface epithelial cells of 90DG ovaries, the expression was absent from these cells by 135DG and in adult ovaries. Localization of oSCF mRNA was observed in the ovarian rete and endothelial cells of blood vessels of fetal ovaries. These results suggest that oSCF may have an important and continuous role in the development and/or maintenance of germ cells during follicle growth and atresia in sheep.