A comparison of nucleotide sequences of murine Ldh-a and Ldh-c genes and human LDH-A, LDH-B, and LDH-C reveals that mouse Ldh-c has lost the CpG "island" present in the genes for the somatic isozymes. However, the human LDH-C gene has a CpG-rich region of 230 bp surrounding its promoter. Endonuclease sensitivity coupled with polymerase chain reaction (PCR) demonstrate the presence of nine heavily methylated sites in this region in different somatic cells. The same sites are specifically hypomethylated in expressing tissues. 3' sites bordering the CpG-rich region appear to be methylated in both expressing and nonexpressing tissues. Furthermore, the methylated promoter forms a specific complex in vitro with a methyl-DNA binding protein. Evolutionary and functional implications of these observations are discussed.