The methylation profile of ten alpha-satellites was investigated in normal individuals and in ICF (Immunodeficiency, Centromeric instability, Facial abnormalities) patients. Two out of three ICF patients showed modified methylation of these sequences, reproducing a placental profile. CENP-B boxes, the binding sites of centromeric protein B, were always skewed toward nonmethylation. Unexpected results were observed in normal individuals: in somatic adult tissues the methylation pattern of alpha-satellite DNA varied between chromosomes, and in fetal tissues these satellites were homogeneously undermethylated. Detailed methylation analysis of CENP-B boxes revealed that unmethylated alpha-satellite units coexist with thoroughly methylated regions. These observations showed that the two major components of constitutive heterochromatin are differently methylated in normal somatic and fetal tissues, since classical satellites are consistently methylated. The definite changes in the methylation profile of heterochromatin in somatic chromosomes and the asynchronous timing of methylation of classical and alpha-satellites during development may reflect specific roles of highly repeated sequences in genomic organization.