Germline mutations of the BRCA2 gene on chromosome 13q12-q13 predispose to the development of early-onset breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Loss of heterozygosity detected using chromosome 13q markers in the vicinity of BRCA2 is observed in most cancers arising in carriers of germline BRCA2 mutations and also in 30-50% of sporadic breast and ovarian cancers. However, somatic mutations of BRCA2 are extremely rare in sporadic cancers. We have examined the hypothesis that expression of the BRCA2 gene may be suppressed in sporadic breast cancers by a mechanism that is associated with increased methylation of cytosine residues in the promoter region. Using a HpaII/MspI digestion-polymerase chain reaction based assay, the presence of 5-methylcytosine in three CpG dinucleotides within the BRCA2 promoter was assessed in 18 breast or ovarian cancer cell lines, in an SV40 large T antigen immortalized cell line derived from normal breast epithelial cells, in 64 primary sporadic breast cancers and peripheral blood leucocytes from these cases and in a number of other normal human tissues. Methylation was not detected in any of the tissues examined, suggesting that this mechanism of transcriptional repression is unlikely to explain the absence of somatic mutations in sporadic cancers.