This study was designed to identify genes that regulate the transition from FSH- to LH-dependent development in the bovine dominant follicle (DF). Serial analysis of gene expression (SAGE) was used to compare the transcriptome of granulosa cells isolated from the most oestrogenic growing cohort follicle (COH), the newly selected DF and its largest subordinate follicle (SF) which is destined for atresia. Follicle diameter, follicular fluid oestradiol (E) and E:progesterone ratio confirmed follicle identity. Results show that there are 93 transcript species differentially expressed in DF granulosa cells, but only 8 of these encode proteins known to be involved in DF development. Most characterised transcripts upregulated in the DF are from tissue development genes that regulate cell differentiation, proliferation, apoptosis, signalling and tissue remodelling. Semiquantitative real-time PCR analysis confirmed seven genes with upregulated (P< or =0.05) mRNA expression in DF compared with both COH and SF granulosa cells. Thus, the new genes identified by SAGE and real-time PCR, which show enhanced mRNA expression in the DF, may regulate proliferation (cyclin D2; CCND2), prevention of apoptosis or DNA damage (growth arrest and DNA damage-inducible, beta; GADD45B), RNA synthesis (splicing factor, arginine/serine rich 9; SFRS9) and unknown processes associated with enhanced steroidogenesis (ovary-specific acidic protein; DQ004742) in granulosa cells of DF at the onset of LH-dependent development. Further studies are required to show whether the expression of identified genes is dysregulated when abnormalities occur during DF selection or subsequent development.