In humans, studies of female germ cells are very limited by ethics. The current study investigated the usefulness of benign ovarian teratomas as a substitute for ova in analyses of imprinted genes. Twenty-five human benign ovarian teratomas were typed with 45 microsatellite DNA markers and classified according to their genotypic features. Two oppositely imprinted genes, H19 and SNRPN, were then chosen for analysis of their methylation states in these tumors. These analyses revealed that benign ovarian teratomas consist of a mixture of genetically and epigenetically heterogeneous cell populations. In contrast to previous reports, we could document only one case rising from germ cells by meiosis-II nondisjunction. H19 and SNRPN were methylated in individual teratomas to various degrees, ranging from normal somatic cell to expected ovum levels. The allele with residual methylation of H19 was consistent with that methylated in the patient's blood DNA, thus being of paternal origin. Degrees of H19 hypomethylation and SNRPN hypermethylation increased as the cellular origin of the tumors advanced in oogenesis and were closely correlated in individual teratomas. These results could be best explained by the assumption that the primary imprinting is a progressively organized process and suggest that the establishment of primary imprints on different genes might be mechanistically linked, even when those genes are oppositely imprinted.