Proprotein convertases (PC) are a family of serine endoproteases that play important roles in regulating cell function by converting proproteins to biologically active molecules. Several lines of evidence suggest that overexpression of PCs contributes to tumor formation and progression in various types of cancer. In this study, we examined PC expression in six normal ovarian surface epithelium (OSE) cultures, nine primary ovarian cancer (OC) cultures, and three established OC cell lines (Hey, HeyC2, and OCC-1). Our results show that furin and PC7 expression in OC cells was comparable to that in normal OSE. However, PACE4 expression was greatly reduced in all OC samples studied. PACE4 promoter activity was measured in HeyC2 and OCC-1 cells using transiently transfected luciferase reporter plasmids. Both cell lines supported PACE4 promoter activity, showing that the transcription factors critical for PACE4 expression are present in OC cells. The observation that established OC cell lines have reduced PACE4 expression, but maintained the ability to support PACE4 promoter activity, led to the hypothesis that reduced expression may be due to epigenetic modification of the PACE4 gene, such as DNA methylation and histone deacetylation. Methylation analysis of 79 CpG dinucleotides within the PACE4 promoter and exon I (-196/+340) revealed that the percentage of methylated cytosine nucleotides was 8-9% in normal OSE, but 58-93% in OC cells. Treatment with the demethylating agent 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine and/or the histone deacetylase inhibitor trichostatin A greatly increased PACE4 expression in OC cells. These data suggest that the reduction of PACE4 expression in OC cells is caused, in part, by DNA hypermethylation and histone deacetylation.