Aberrant crypt foci (ACF) are postulated to be the earliest precursor lesion in colorectal carcinogenesis, and CpG island methylation has been described as an important molecular pathway. We therefore studied methylation in ACF from patients with familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or sporadic colorectal cancer. We assessed methylation status of the p16 tumor suppressor gene, MINT1 (methylated in tumor 1), MINT2, MINT31, O(6)-methylguanine-DNA methyltransferase gene, and hMLH1 mismatch repair gene. We compared methylation to ACF histopathology, K-ras proto-oncogene mutation, loss of heterozygosity at chromosome 1p, and microsatellite instability. Methylation was present in 34% (21 of 61) of ACF, including both FAP and sporadic types, but was more frequent in sporadic ACF [53% (18 of 34) versus 11% (3 of 27), P = 0.002], especially dysplastic sporadic ACF [75% (3 of 4) versus 8% (2 of 24), P = 0.004]. MINT31 was more frequently methylated in heteroplastic ACF than dysplastic ACF [35% (11 of 31) versus 7% (2 of 30), P = 0.01]. Strong associations of ACF methylation with K-ras mutation (P = 0.007) and with loss of chromosome 1p (P = 0.04) were observed, but methylation was the only molecular abnormality identified in 16% (10 of 61) of ACF. Our findings suggest that methylation in ACF is an early event in the pathogenesis of a subset of colorectal carcinomas, and that ACF from FAP patients and patients with sporadic colorectal cancer have distinct epigenetic changes that reflect differences in molecular pathogenesis.