Mammalian cell lines for recombinant protein production need to maintain productivity over extended cultivation times. Long-term stability studies are time and resource intensive, but are widely performed to identify and eliminate unstable candidates during cell line development. Production instability of manufacturing cell lines can be associated with methylation and silencing of the heterologous promoter. We have identified CpG dinucleotides within the human cytomegalovirus major immediate early promoter/enhancer (hCMV-MIE) that are frequently methylated in unstable antibody-producing Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cell lines. We have established methylation-specific real-time qPCR for the rapid and sensitive measurement of hCMV-MIE methylation in multiple cell lines and provide evidence that hCMV-MIE methylation and transgene copy numbers can be used as early markers to predict production instability of recombinant CHO cell lines. These markers should provide the opportunity to enrich stable producers early in cell line development and allow developers to put more emphasis on other criteria, such as product quality and bioprocess robustness. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2011;108: 2670–2681. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.