Interferon-gamma (IFNgamma) gene expression is tightly regulated in early life, and exaggerated negative control of IFNgamma production in CD4(+) T cells has been associated with risk for subsequent development of atopy. Recent studies have demonstrated hypermethylation of CpG sites in the IFNgamma promoter in neonates, a mechanism which in mice leads to strong suppression of IFNgamma gene transcription. In the present study, the methylation status of six CpG sites in the proximal promoter of the human IFNgamma gene was determined by bisulphite sequencing. Cell populations studied were Th1 or Th2 polarized cell lines derived from neonatal and adult CD4(+)/CD45RA(+) T cells, CD4(+) and CD8(+) naive T cells from cord blood of children followed to outcome age 2 for assessment of atopy status, and CD4(+) and CD8(+) naive T cells from 6 yr old and adult atopics and controls. We demonstrate that in vitro differentiation of CD4(+) T cells down the Th1 pathway (but not the Th2 pathway) is accompanied by progressive demethylation of CpG sites in the IFNgamma promoter, which is most marked in neonatal cells. Atopy development by age 2 was not associated with variations in methylation patterns in cord blood T cells. However, IFNgamma promoter methylation was reduced in CD8(+) T cells from atopic children in the age range in which hyperproduction of IFNgamma as recently been identified as a common feature of the atopic phenotype. The findings demonstrate the potency of IFNgamma promoter methylation as a mechanism for control of human IFNgamma gene expression, particularly during early life. Differential regulation of IFNgamma promoter methylation in T cells may be an important contributory factor in atopy development in childhood, and this possibility warrants further detailed investigation.