Expression of the human multidrug resistance 1 gene (MDR1), which encodes the P-glycoprotein transmembrane efflux pump, has been associated with treatment failure of some leukemias, primarily acute myeloid leukemia (AML). To elucidate the epigenetic events associated with overexpression of MDR1 in AML, we analyzed the methylation status of a 2000 bp region within the MDR1 locus using a bisulphite genomic sequencing technique. A CpG-rich domain, approximately 1 kb in size, encompasses the promoter region, exon I, and intron I. This domain was found to be relatively unmethylated in five out of six primary and cultured human hematopoietic cells, as well as five out of six AML patient samples, independent of the MDR1 phenotype. The data suggest that the methylation status of the CpG-rich domain does not act as a 'switch' to regulate expression of the MDR1 gene. In addition, we found an upstream Alu repeat sequence to be unmethylated in three out of five cultured hematopoietic cell lines, both MDR1 expressing and non-expressing. However, analysis of primary CD8-positive T cells and AML patient samples revealed dense methylation of this region which is consistent with methylation of Alu repeat sequences observed in somatic tissues.