To determine the potential role of methylation in the regulation of interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) gene transcription by T cells, primary T-lineage cell populations were analyzed for the extent of methylation of three CpG sites within or near transcriptional activator elements in the 5' flank and first intron of the human IFN-gamma gene. A striking correlation was observed between the capacity of the IFN-gamma gene to be expressed and the degree of hypomethylation. The IFN-gamma gene was virtually completely methylated at all sites in thymocytes, neonatal T cells, and adult CD45RAhiCD45R0lo (antigenically naive) CD4 T cells, cell types that all have a low or undetectable capacity to express the IFN-gamma gene. In contrast, there was substantial hypomethylation in T-lineage cell types with relatively high capacities to express the IFN-gamma gene, including adult CD8 T cells and adult CD45RAloCD45R0hi (memory/effector) CD4 T cells. These results suggest that hypomethylation of the IFN-gamma genetic locus may be an important determinant of IFN-gamma gene expression in vivo by T-lineage cells.