The p16INK4A (p16) binds to both cyclin D-CDK4 and cyclin D-CDK6 and inhibits the progression of the cell cycle from G1 to S phase. Loss of expression of this protein can occur by several mechanisms including structural alterations. Recent studies have suggested that the loss of expression of p16 can occur by hypermethylation of the gene. The methylation status of the p16 gene in multiple myeloma was examined in three myeloma cell lines (U266, RPMI8226 and IM9) and 16 primary myeloma samples using methylation-specific polymerase chain reaction (MSP). The U266 and RPMI8226 cell lines contained a completely methylated p16 gene and the IM9 line had a partially methylated p16 gene. Identical results were obtained by another polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based methylation assay system as well as Southern blotting after using a methylation-sensitive restriction enzyme. The U266 cell line expressed no p16, and the IM9 had weak expression as determined by reverse transcript (RT-)PCR. The U266 cells began to express, and IM9 increased the accumulation of, the p16 RNA after treatment with the demethylating agent 5'-aza-2-deoxycytidine (10(-6)-10(-5) M). This suggested that the levels of methylation of the p16 gene detected by the MSP technique correlated with the regulation of transcription of this gene. Examination of the primary myeloma samples showed that eight of 16 (50%) contained a methylated p16 gene. We have previously found that alterations of the p16 gene, such as deletions and point mutations, are rare in primary multiple myeloma; none of the 16 samples included in this study had p16 gene alterations. Our results suggest that methylation of the p16 gene may contribute to the development and/or progression of multiple myeloma.