Folate deficiency enhances colorectal carcinogenesis in dimethylhydrazine-treated rats. Folate is an important mediator of DNA methylation, an epigenetic modification of DNA that is known to be dysregulated in the early stages of colorectal cancer. This study investigated the effect of dimethylhydrazine on DNA methylation of the colonic p53 gene and the modulation of this effect by dietary folate. Sprague-Dawley rats were fed diets containing 0, 2, 8, or 40 mg of folate/kg of diet. Five weeks after diet initiation, dimethylhydrazine was injected weekly for fifteen weeks. Folate-depleted and folate-replete control animals did not receive dimethylhydrazine and were fed the 0- and 8-mg folate diets, respectively. The extent of p53 methylation was determined by a quantitative HpaII-polymerase chain reaction. In exons 6 and 7, significant p53 hypomethylation was observed in all dimethylhydrazine-treated rats relative to controls (P < 0.01), independent of dietary folate. In exon 8, significant p53 hypomethylation was observed only in the dimethylhydrazine-treated folate-depleted rats compared with controls (P = 0.038) and was effectively overcome by increasing levels of dietary folate (P = 0.008). In this model, dimethylhydrazine induces exon-specific p53 hypomethylation. In some exons, this occurs independent of dietary folate, and in others, increasing levels of dietary folate effectively override the induction of hypomethylation in a dose-responsive manner. This may be a mechanism by which increasing levels of dietary folate inhibit colorectal carcinogenesis.