Steroidogenic factor-1 (SF-1), also known as adrenal-4-binding protein (Ad4BP), is a recently-described transcription factor, which has been shown to be important for the differentiation of steroidogenic tissues. In addition, SF-1 has been implicated in regulating the glycoprotein hormone α-subunit gene in a pituitary gonadotroph cell line. Considering that the human placenta produces both steroids and human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG), we studied the expression of SF-1 in this tissue. Human first trimester and term placentas were collected at the time of therapeutic abortion and birth respectively. Messenger RNA was extracted, reverse transcribed, and used for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification with primers specific for the human SF-1 cDNA sequence. A band of the expected size was obtained from both first and third trimester samples, indicating that SF-1 expression in the human placenta starts early in pregnancy and is maintained until birth. In addition to normal placental samples, JEG3 and JAR choriocarcinoma cells were also analysed and found to express SF-1 mRNA. The identity of the amplified products was confirmed by diagnostic restriction digest and Southern hybridization. SF-1 protein was localized mainly to the nuclei of the cyto- and syncytiotrophoblast and to some mesenchymal villous nuclei by immunocytochemistry using a specific antibody. We conclude that SF-1 is expressed in human first trimester and term placenta, where it could be implicated in the regulation of HCG production, in steroidogenesis, or both.