Expression screening for genes preferentially expressed in mouse fetal ovaries relative to testes identified Cav-1 as a candidate female-specific gene. Cav-1 encodes caveolin-1, a component of the cell membrane invaginations known as caveolae, which are involved in lipid regulation and signal transduction. In situ hybridization revealed high levels of Cav-1 mRNA in developing ovaries, compared with moderate or low levels in testes. Analysis of caveolin-1 protein distribution by immunofluorescence showed this difference to be due to the development of a dense and complex vascular network in the developing ovary. These observations point to a higher degree of differentiation and organization of the early stage mammalian ovary than previously suspected. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.