Somatic changes in CpG dinucleotide methylation occur quite commonly in human cancer cell DNA. Relative to DNA from normal human colonic cells, DNA from human colorectal cancer cells typically displays regional CpG dinucleotide hypermethylation amid global CpG dinucleotide hypomethylation. The role of the maintenance DNA methyltransferase (DNMT1) in the acquisition of such abnormal CpG dinucleotide methylation changes in colorectal cancer cells remains controversial; in one study, 60-200-fold increases in DNMT1 mRNA expression were detected in colorectal polyps and cancers relative to normal colonic tissue [W. S. El-Deiry et al., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 88: 3470-3474, 1991], whereas in another study, only small increases in DNMT1 mRNA expression, commensurate with differences in cell proliferation accompanying colonic tumorigenesis, were observed [P. J. Lee et al., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 93: 10366-10370, 1996]. To definitively ascertain whether abnormal DNMT1 expression might accompany human colorectal carcinogenesis, we subjected a series of normal and neoplastic colonic tissues to immunohistochemical staining using a polyclonal antiserum raised against a DNMT1 polypeptide. A concordance of DNMT1 expression with the expression of PCNA and other cell proliferation markers, such as Ki-67 and DNA topoisomerase IIα, was observed in normal colonic epithelial cells and in cells comprising other normal epithelia and lymphoid tissues. The polypeptide p21, which has been reported to undermine DNMT1 binding to proliferating cell nuclear antigen at DNA replication sites, was not expressed by normal colonic cells containing DNMT1 and other cell proliferation markers. In adenomatous polyps, although DNMT1 expression coincided with the expression of other cell proliferation markers, many DNMT1-expressing cells also expressed p21. The fidelity of DNMT1 expression was further undermined in colorectal carcinomas, in which a striking heterogeneity in DNMT1 expression, with some carcinoma cells containing very high DNMT1 levels and others containing very low DNMT1 levels, was observed. These results indicate that human colorectal carcinogenesis is accompanied by a progressive dysregulation of DNMT1 expression and suggest that abnormalities in DNMT1 expression may contribute to the abnormal CpG dinucleotide methylation changes characteristic of human colorectal carcinoma cell DNA.