In position-effect variegation (PEV) genes become silenced by heterochromatisation. Genetic dissection of this process has been performed by means of dominant suppressor [Su(var)] and enhancer [E(var)] mutations. Selective genetic screens allowed mass isolation of more than 380 PEV modifier mutations identifying about 150 genes. Genetic fine structure studies revealed unique dosage dependent effects. Most of the haplo-dependent Su(var) and E(var) genes do not display triplo-dependent effects. Several Su(var) loci with triplo-dependent opposite enhancer effects have been identified and shown to encode heterochromatin-associated proteins. From these the evolutionary conserved histone H3 lysine 9 methyltransferase SU(VAR)3-9 plays a central role in heterochromatic gene silencing. Molecular function of most PEV modifier genes is still unknown also including genes identified with mutations displaying lethal interaction to heterochromatin. Their analysis should contribute to further understanding of processes connected with regulation of higher order chromatin structure and epigenetic programming.