Aberrant DNA methylation is now recognized as an important epigenetic alteration occurring early in human cancer. To directly study the role of DNA methyltransferase 1 (DNMT1) in the regulation of expression of tumor-related genes in human colon cancer cells, we stably transfected expression constructs containing sense or antisense DNMT1 into the human colon cancer cell line, SW1116. The expression level of mismatch repair genes (MMR), human mut-L homologue 1 (hMLH1) and human Mut S homologue 2 (hMSH2), was monitored by real-time RT-PCR. The methylation status of hMLH1 and hMSH2 promoters was determined by bisulfite modification and methylation-specific PCR (MSP). The protein levels of DNMT1, hMSH2 and hMLH1 were determined by Western analysis. The results show that DNMT1 protein expression was increased or decreased in transfected cell lines containing sense or antisense DNMT1 constructs, respectively. In cells expressing the sense DNMT1 construct, the expression of hMLH1 and hMSH2 was down-regulated through hypermethylation of their respective promoters. Furthermore, antisense DNMT1 expression induced promoter demethylation and up-regulated transcription of hMSH2 (P<0.05) and hMLH1 (P=0.064) in SW1116 cells.