This study examines the expression of E-cadherin and N-cadherin in the most common epithelial tumors of the ovary. The homotypic interactions of distinctive members of the cadherin family of cell-cell adhesion molecules segregate cells into tissues during embryonic development, and their expression in tumors can be used to trace the histogenesis of tumor cells. Because the surface epithelium of the ovary is a modified mesothelium, we speculated that the expression of E (epithelial)-cadherin and N (neural, mesodermal)-cadherin may provide clues about the controversial origin of common epithelial ovarian tumors. Immunohistochemistry was performed in paraffin sections using well-characterized monoclonal antibodies to E- and N-cadherin and heat-induced antigen-retrieval methods. We found that serous and endometrioid tumors express both E- and N-cadherin. In contrast, mucinous tumors strongly express E-cadherin, but no N-cadherin. The presence of N-cadherin in serous and endometrioid tumors traces their origin to the mesoderm-derived ovarian surface epithelium. The absence of N-cadherin in mucinous tumors clearly distinguishes them from the former, suggesting histogenesis from a cell lineage other than the ovarian surface epithelium or aberrant differentiation mechanisms associated with neoplastic transformation.