The present study was designed to determine whether changes in DNA methyltransferase (DNA MTase) expression are involved in hepatocarcinogenesis. We examined DNA MTase expression in normal liver tissue (with no remarkable histological findings), liver tissue showing chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis, which are generally thought to be precancerous conditions, and hepatocellular carcinomas (HCCs) using the reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction assay. DNA MTase mRNA levels were significantly higher in liver tissue showing chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis (DNA MTase mRNA/β-actin mRNA ratio=0.30±0.22, n=24, P<0.01) than in normal liver tissue either from patients with liver metastatic lesions of colonic cancer (0.14±0.05, n= 6) or from patients with HCCs (0.16±0.07, n= 3). DNA MTase mRNA levels were even higher in HCC tissue (0.34±0.18, n=29). These results suggest that increased DNA MTase expression may be an early event during hepatocar-cinogenesis. DNA MTase is a potential target for HCC preventive therapy.