DNA methylation is known to play an important role in the regulation of gene expression in eukaryotes. In this study, we assessed the extent and pattern of cytosine methylation in the rice genome, using the technique of methylation-sensitive amplified polymorphism (MSAP), which is a modification of the amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) method that makes use of the differential sensitivity of a pair of isoschizomers to cytosine methylation. The tissues assayed included seedlings and flag leaves of an elite rice hybrid, Shanyou 63, and the parental lines Zhenshan 97 and Minghui 63. In all, 1076 fragments, each representing a recognition site cleaved by either or both of the isoschizomers, were amplified using 16 pairs of selective primers. A total of 195 sites were found to be methylated at cytosines in one or both parents, and the two parents showed approximately the same overall degree of methylation (16.3%), as revealed by the incidence of differential digestion by the isoschizomers. Four classes of patterns were identified in a comparative assay of cytosine methylation in the parents and hybrid; increased methylation was detected in the hybrid compared to the parents at some of the recognition sites, while decreased methylation in the hybrid was detected at other sites. A small proportion of the sites was found to be differentially methylated in seedlings and flag leaves; DNA from young seedlings was methylated to a greater extent than that from flag leaves. Almost all of the methylation patterns detected by MSAP could be confirmed by Southern analysis using the isolated amplified fragments as probes. The results clearly demonstrate that the MSAP technique is highly efficient for large-scale detection of cytosine methylation in the rice genome. We believe that the technique can be adapted for use in other plant species.