Metastasis is a major cause of therapeutic failure in ovarian cancer. To elucidate molecular mechanisms of ovarian cancer metastasis, we previously established a metastatic xenograft mouse model using human ovarian carcinoma SK-OV-3 cells. Using gene expression profiling, we found that γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)A receptor π subunit (GABRP) expression was upregulated (>4-fold) in metastatic tissues from our xenograft mice compared with SK-OV-3 cells. Importantly, GABRP knockdown diminished the migration and invasion of SK-OV-3 cells, and reduced extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) activation while overexpression of GABRP exhibited significantly increased cell migration, invasion and ERK activation. Moreover, treatment with the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK)/ERK kinase (MEK) inhibitor U0126 similarly suppressed the migration and invasion of SK-OV-3 cells, implying that GABRP promotes these cellular behaviors by activating the MAPK/ERK pathway. Using genome-wide DNA methylation profiling, we identified hypomethylated CpG sites in the GABRP promoter in metastatic tissues from the xenograft mice compared with SK-OV-3 cells. Treatment with a DNA methyltransferase inhibitor demonstrated that methylation at − 963 bp from the GABRP transcription start site (−963 CpG site) was critical for the epigenetic regulation of GABRP. Finally, we analyzed human ovarian cancer patient samples and showed DNA hypomethylation at the GABRP − 963 CpG site in advanced stage, but not early-stage, primary tumors compared with their paired normal tissues. These findings suggest that GABRP enhances the aggressive phenotype of ovarian cancer cells, and that the DNA methylation status of the GABRP − 963 CpG site may be useful for predicting the metastatic potential in ovarian cancer patients.