DNA methylation plays an important part in the regulation of gene expression. Alterations in DNA methylation in tumours have been reported and have been used to generate hypotheses about mutagenesis and silencing of tumour suppressor genes. However, the underlying mechanism is still poorly understood, and conflicting data on the levels of overexpression of 5'-cytosine DNA methyltransferase in sporadic colon carcinoma have been published. We used a competitive RT-PCR assay for quantification of mRNA of 5'-cytosine DNA methyltransferase in colon biopsies obtained from patients with hereditary colon carcinoma syndromes and compared the results with those obtained in a control group. No significant difference was found between the flat mucosa of FAP patients and the mucosa of the control group. In FAP and HNPCC patients, the 5'-cytosine DNA methyltransferase mRNA levels of adenomas were significantly higher (P<0.05) than of flat mucosa in the same group, but both showed great variability from patient to patient. Our findings suggest that the mRNA levels of methyltransferase cannot be used as predictive marker for screening in families affected by hereditary colon carcinoma.