Expression of surface antigen genes in Trypanosoma brucei occurs at expression sites located near telomeres. Since only one antigen is produced at a time, a mechanism must exist to prevent the simultaneous activity of multiple expression sites. Here we report that PstI and PvuII restriction sites in silent telomeric antigen genes are partially uncleavable , presumably as a consequence of DNA modification. The modification, which is absent in transcribed genes but returns after gene inactivation, may be specific for telomeric DNA because (1) it is not detected in non-telomeric genes; (2) modification is highest close to the telomere; (3) the level of modification in a telomeric gene is influenced by the size of the telomeric DNA segment downstream. Whether telomere modification is cause or consequence of antigen gene switch-off remains to be determined.