Chronic dietary insufficiency of the lipotropic nutrients choline and methionine is hepatocarcinogenic in male rats and certain mouse strains. Despite the fact that DNA hypomethylation is a hallmark of most cancer genomes, the tissue-specific consequences of this alternation with respect to tumorigenesis remain to be determined. In the present study, the folate/methyl deficient model of multistage hepatocarcinogenesis was used to evaluate in vivo alterations in DNA methylation in the liver, the carcinogenesis target tissue, and in non-target tissues, including pancreas, spleen, kidney, and thymus, of male F344 rats. By utilizing the HpaII/MspI-based cytosine extension assay, we demonstrated that the percent of CpG sites that lost methyl groups on both strands progressively increased in liver tissue after 9, 18, and 36 weeks of folate/methyl deficiency. The endogenous activity of DNA methyltransferase in liver of rats fed with folate/methyl deficient diet for the 36-week period gradually increased with time. In contrast, non-target tissues displayed no changes in DNA methylation level or activity of DNA methyltransferase. The failure of DNA methyltransferase to restore and maintain DNA methylation patterns in preneoplastic liver tissue may lead to the establishment of tumor-specific DNA methylation and DNA methyltransferase profiles that are not expressed in normal liver. These results provide additional information about alterations in DNA methylation during early preneoplastic stages of carcinogenesis. They also demonstrate that DNA hypomethylation is localized to tissue that undergoes carcinogenesis, and is not altered in non-target tissues.