Ovarian carcinoma (OC) is a leading cause of death among women throughout the world. A number of cancer-associated genes have been shown to be inactivated by hypermethylation of CpG islands during tumorigenesis. We tested the hypothesis that methylation status of MGMT, CDH1, RAR-beta and SYK could be important in the ovarian tumorigenic process and can lead to the gene(s) inactivation. Therefore, we assessed the promoter hypermethylation of MGMT, CDH1, RAR-beta and SYK in 43 ovarian granulosa cell tumours (GCTs) (adult type) using methylation-specific PCR. These tumours are relatively rare, accounting for approximately 3% of all ovarian cancers. Hypermethylation of MGMT (in 14 tumours), CDH1 (in nine tumours), RAR-beta (in eight tumours) and SYK (in seven tumours) have been found. Selective loss of RAR-beta and RAR-beta2 mRNA has been found in seven patients, while that of MGMT and SYK in three patients who also show aberrant methylation in promoter region of RAR-beta in addition to MGMT, SYK and CDH1 genes. Promoter CpG hypermethylation may be an alternative to mutation(s) to inactivate tumour suppressor genes such as MGMT, CDH1, RAR-beta and SYK, and this can also be an early event in the pathogenesis of OCs. Moreover, hypermethylation of the MGMT and CDH1, MGMT and RAR-beta and CDH1 and RAR-beta promoters occurred concordantly (P< 0.001, 0.0421 and 0.0005 respectively; Fischer's exact test). In addition to this, monosomy 22 and trisomy 14 have also been found in 10 tumours. It is clear from the results that hypermethylation of the promoter region of these tumour suppressor genes, monosomy 22 and trisomy 14, may be critical steps in the tumorigenesis, which consequently play a permissive role for tumour aggressiveness. All these events might play an important role in the early clinical diagnosis of the disease. Our results, therefore, suggest a potential role for epigenetic modification of these critical tumour suppressor genes in pathways relevant to the transformation and differentiation of rare type of ovarian cancer (GCTs).