AIM: To examine proliferative activity using the Ki-67 protein, oestrogen receptor protein, and progesterone receptor protein expression in the rete ovarii, and to make comparisons with their expression in endometriosis. METHODS: Immunohistochemistry was used to study the rete ovarii in 24 cases and endometriosis in seven cases, using antibodies to Ki-67 protein (growth fraction (GF) quantified using a point score method) and oestrogen receptor and progesterone receptor (quantified using the H score method). RESULTS: There was no evidence of a significant difference in the Ki-67 protein, oestrogen receptor, and progesterone receptor in the rete ovarii in different phases of the menstrual cycle (proliferative phase: GF = 1.052, oestrogen receptor H score = 13.4, progesterone receptor H score = 15.32; secretory phase: GF = 0.736, oestrogen receptor H score = 7.5, progesterone receptor H score = 1.84). The expression of all three proteins was greater in the foci of endometriosis (GF = 6.99, oestrogen receptor H score = 152.02, progesterone receptor H score = 127.36) than in the rete ovarii (p < 0.0005-0.0008, Mann-Whitney U test). CONCLUSIONS: There is a low rate of cellular proliferation in the rete ovarii and this structure shows less responsiveness to hormone stimulation than foci of endometriosis. These differences may provide a useful tool to distinguish the rete ovarii from endometriosis in cases of diagnostic difficulty.