GLD-1, a putative RNA binding protein, is essential for oocyte development in Caenorhabditis elegans. A gld-1 null mutation abolishes hermaphrodite oogenesis and confers a tumorous germline phenotype in which presumptive female germ cells exit the meiotic pathway and return to the mitotic cell cycle. Here we demonstrate that gld-1(null) germ lines express female-specific, but not male-specific, molecular markers, indicating that gld-1 acts downstream of sexual fate specification to regulate oocyte differentiation. Immunolocalization studies identify GLD-1 as a cytoplasmic germline protein that displays differential accumulation during germline development. First, germ cells that are in the mitotic cell cycle contain low levels of GLD-1 that likely reflect a nonessential gld-1 function (negative regulation of proliferation in the mitotic germ line) revealed in previous genetic studies. Second, entry of presumptive oocytes into the meiotic pathway is accompanied by a strong increase in GLD-1 expression/accumulation. GLD-1 levels are high through the pachytene stage but fall to background as germ cells exit pachytene and complete oogenesis. The meiotic prophase accumulation pattern is consistent with GLD-1's essential role in oocyte differentiation, which may be to repress the translation of a subset of maternal RNAs synthesized during early oogenesis until late oogenesis when GLD-1 is absent.