The p16 (CDKN2/MTS-1/INK4A) gene is one of several tumour-suppressor genes that have been shown to be inactivated by DNA methylation in various human cancers including breast tumours. We have used bisulphite genomic sequencing to examine the detailed sequence specificity of DNA methylation in the CpG island promoter/exon 1 region in the p16 gene in DNA from a series of human breast cancer specimens and normal human breast tissue (from reductive mammaplasty). The p16 region examined was unmethylated in the four normal human breast specimens and in four out of nine breast tumours. In the other five independent breast tumour specimens, a uniform pattern of DNA methylation was observed. Of the nine major sites of DNA methylation in the amplified region from these tumour DNAs, four were in non-CG sequences. This unusual concentration of non-CG methylation sites was not a general phenomenon present throughout the genome of these tumour cells because the methylated CpG island regions of interspersed L1 repeats had a pattern of (almost exclusively) CG methylation similar to that found in normal breast tissue DNA and in DNA from tumours with unmethylated p16 genes. These data suggest that DNA methylation of the p16 gene in some breast tumours could be the result of an active process that generates a discrete methylation pattern and, hence, could ultimately be amenable to therapeutic manipulation.