Relaxation of IGF2 imprinting occurs in Wilms tumours and many other cancers, but the mechanism of loss of imprinting (LOI) remains unknown. To investigate the role of altered DNA methylation in LOI, we examined the pattern of methylation of the human insulin-IGF2 region in Wilms tumours and the normal kidney. The analysis included regions homologous to three 'differentially methylated regions' of the mouse Igf2 gene (dmrs 0, 1 and 2). In tumours displaying normal IGF2 imprinting, and in the normal kidney, maternal allele-specific DNA methylation was identified spanning exons 2 and 3. This region is homologous to dmr 0, a site of maternal-specific differential methylation in the mouse. In Wilms tumours with relaxed imprinting or 11p15.5 LOH this region was unmethylated. No other differential methylation was identified. In particular, two sites of paternal methylation in the mouse (dmrs 1 and 2), and all three imprinted IGF2 promoters were not methylated in the kidney or in Wilms tumours. We postulate that LOI in Wilms tumours is associated with loss of maternal allele-specific methylation from a region located upstream of the imprinted IGF2 promoters. This region may contain cis acting sequences that coordinately influence imprinting.