Paracrine signalling between the oocyte and its surrounding somatic cells is fundamental to the processes of oogenesis and folliculogenesis in mammals. The study of animal models has revealed that the interaction of granulosa cell-derived kit ligand (KL) with oocyte and theca cell-derived c-Kit is important for multiple aspects of oocyte and follicle development, including the establishment of primordial germ cells within the ovary, primordial follicle activation, oocyte survival and growth, granulosa cell proliferation, theca cell recruitment and the maintenance of meiotic arrest. Though little is known about the specific roles of KL and c-Kit during human oogenesis, the expression profiles for KL and c-Kit within the human ovary suggest that they are also functionally relevant to female fertility. This review details our current understanding of the roles of KL and c-Kit within the mammalian ovary, with a particular focus on the functional diversity of this receptor-ligand interaction at different stages of oocyte and follicle development. © 2006 Oxford University Press.