Increasing evidence indicates that the post-translational modifications of the histone proteins play critical roles in all eukaryotic DNA-templated processes. To gain further biological insights into two of these modifications, the mono- and trimethylation of histone H4 lysine 20 (H4K20me1 and H4K20me3), ChIP-chip experiments were performed to identify the precise genomic regions on human chromosomes 21 and 22 occupied by these two modifications. Detailed analysis revealed that H4K20me1 was preferentially enriched within specific genes; most significantly between the first ∼5% and 20% of gene bodies. In contrast, H4K20me3 was preferentially targeted to repetitive elements. Among genes enriched in H4K20me3, the modification was typically targeted to a small region ∼1 kb upstream of transcription start. Our collective findings strongly suggest that H4K20me1 and H4K20me3 are both physically and functionally distinct. We next sought to determine the role of H4K20me1 in transcription since this has been controversial. Following the reduction of PR-Set7/Set8/KMT5a and H4K20me1 in cells by RNAi, all H4K20me1-associated genes analyzed displayed an ∼2-fold increase in gene expression; H4K20me3-associated genes displayed no changes. Similar results were obtained using a catalytically dead dominant negative PR-Set7 indicating that H4K20me1, itself, is essential for the selective transcriptional repression of H4K20me1-associated genes. Furthermore, we determined that the H4K20me1-associated DNA sequences were sufficient to nucleate H4K20me1 and induce repression in vivo. Our findings reveal the molecular mechanisms of a mammalian transcriptional repressive pathway whereby the DNA sequences within specific gene bodies are sufficient to nucleate the monomethylation of H4K20 which, in turn, reduces gene expression by half. J. Cell. Biochem. 110: 609–619, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.