Breast cancer, early onset 1 (BRCA1) encodes a nuclear protein that participates in breast and ovarian cancer suppression. The molecular basis for the gender and tissue specificity of the BRCA1 cancer syndrome is unknown. Recently, we observed that a fraction of BRCA1 in female cells is localized on the inactive X chromosome (Xi). Chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) experiments have demonstrated that BRCA1 physically associates with Xi–specific transcript (XIST) RNA, a non–coding RNA known to coat Xi and to participate in the initiation of its inactivation during early embryogenesis. Cells lacking wild–type BRCA1 show abnormalities in Xi, including lack of proper XIST RNA localization. Reintroduction of wild–type, but not mutant, BRCA1 can correct this defect in XIST localization in these cells. Depletion of BRCA1 in female diploid cells led to a defect in proper XIST localization on Xi and in the development of normal Xi heterchromatic superstructure. Moreover, depletion of BRCA1 led to an increased likelihood of re–expression of a green fluorescent protein (GFP) reporter gene embedded on Xi. Taken together, these findings are consistent with a model in which BRCA1 function contributes to the maintenance of proper Xi heterochromatin superstructure. Although the data imply a novel gender–specific consequence of BRCA1 loss, the relevance of the BRCA1/Xi function to the tumour suppressor activity of BRCA1 remains unclear and needs to be tested.