Previous studies have indicated that lymphangiogenesis in solid tumors is associated with lymphatic metastasis. Overexpression of Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-C plays a major role in lymphangiogenesis in cancers. In the present study, DNA methylation and expression of the VEGF-C gene was investigated in gastric cancer (GC). Four GC cell lines (MKN-45, MKN-74, HSC-39 and HSC-43) showed no expression of VEGF-C, and the VEGF-C gene was found to be methylated in these cells. In contrast, 7 GC cell lines (MKN-1, MKN-7, MKN-28, TMK-1, KATO-III, SH101-P4 and HSC-44PE) expressed VEGF-C, and the VEGF-C gene was found to be unmethylated in these cell lines. In addition, expression of VEGF-C mRNA was retrieved by treatment with a demethylating agent, Aza-2′-deoxycytidine. In GC tissue samples, bisulfite DNA sequencing analysis revealed that VEGF-C was not methylated in 9 (29.0%) of 31 GC samples, whereas demethylation was not observed in corresponding non-neoplastic mucosa samples. Overexpression of VEGF-C mRNA was observed in 16 (51.6%) of 31 GC samples by quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction. Of the 9 GC cases with VEGF-C demethylation, 8 (88.9%) overexpressed VEGF-C. In contrast, of the 22 GC cases without VEGF-C demethylation, 8 (36.4%) overexpressed VEGF-C (p = 0.0155). Furthermore, lymphatic vessel density determined by immunostaining of podoplanin in GC tissues was associated with overexpression of VEGF-C (p < 0.0001). These results suggest that demethylation and activation of the VEGF-C gene is likely involved in lymphangiogenesis in GC. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.