The mechanisms underlying sperm protein 17 (Sp17) gene expression in myeloma cells remained unclear. Using reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), Sp17 transcripts were detected in ARK-B, ARP-1, RPMI-8226 and KMS-11 but not in H929, IM-9, MM1-R and U266 cells. Using a panel of primer pairs in methylation-sensitive PCR to amplify overlapping gene segments, our screening studies showed that the HpaII sites at -359 and -350 are involved in the regulation of Sp17 gene expression. To confirm the differences in methylation status between Sp17-positive and Sp17-negative cell lines, KMS-11 cells (Sp17-positive) and IM-9 cells (Sp17-negative) were subjected to the more accurate method of bisulphite conversion. KMS-11 cells were more hypomethylated at these HpaII sites of exon 1 compared to IM-9 cells, indicating the association of hypomethylated promoter with Sp17 gene expression. In addition, the level of methylation at other CpG sites within the promoter sequence was also higher in IM-9 than KMS-11. Exon 1 was cloned into a reporter vector, pCAT*3 Enhancer. Chloramphenicol acetyl transferase (CAT) activity was restored in cells transfected with the recombinant plasmid, indicating the promoter function of exon 1. Exposure of Sp17-negative cell lines to the hypomethylating agent, 5-azacytidine, resulted in the upregulation of Sp17 gene expression. Our results therefore provide evidence for the regulation of Sp17 gene expression by promoter methylation.