The methylation of the human oestrogen receptor (ER) gene was analysed by restriction enzymes in normal and neoplastic human breast tissues and cell lines. CCGG sequences in regions inside the gene, which are methylated both in normal breast and in tissues that are not the target of the oestrogen, are hypomethylated in 30% of tumours, both ER+ and ER- carcinomas. Moreover, 5' sequences of the gene, which are hypomethylated in normal breast and not in tissues not the target of oestrogen, are methylated to a lower degree in ER+ carcinomas, whereas they are methylated to a greater degree in ER- carcinomas. However, the same region is equally hypomethylated in both ER+ and ER- cancer cell lines. Our results indicate that in breast carcinomas ER DNA methylation is deranged, and in cancer cell lines is different from that observed in primary tumours. Furthermore, the abnormal methylation in the 5' end seems to be related to abnormal expression, namely diffuse hypomethylation in carcinomas with high ER content and hypermethylation in carcinomas without ER. These findings support our previous hypothesis that DNA methylation could be involved in the control of ER gene expression and demonstrate that abnormal ER gene methylation is a typical feature of breast cancers.