Midbrain dopamine (DA) neurons are associated with locomotor and psychiatric disorders. DA phenotype is specified in ancestral neural precursor cells (NPCs) and maintained throughout neuronal differentiation. Here we show that endogenous expression of MeCP2 coincides with DA phenotype specification in mouse mesencephalon, and premature expression of MeCP2 prevents in vitro cultured NPCs from acquiring DA phenotype through interfering NURR1 transactivation of DA phenotype genes. By contrast, ectopic MeCP2 expression does not disturb DA phenotype in the DA neurons. By analyzing the dynamic change of DNA methylation along DA neuronal differentiation at the promoter of DA phenotype gene tyrosine hydroxylase (Th), we show that Th expression is determined by TET1-mediated de-methylation of NURR1 binding sites within Th promoter. Chromatin immunoprecipitation assays demonstrate that premature MeCP2 dominates the DNA binding of the corresponding sites thereby blocking TET1 function in DA NPCs, whereas TET1-mediated de-methylation prevents excessive MeCP2 binding in DA neurons. The significance of temporal DNA methylation status is further confirmed by targeted methylation/demethylation experiments showing that targeted de-methylation in DA NPCs protects DA phenotype specification from ectopic MeCP2 expression, whereas targeted methylation disturbs phenotype maintenance in MeCP2-overexpressed DA neurons. These findings suggest the appropriate timing of MeCP2 expression as a novel determining factor for guiding NPCs into DA lineage. © The Author(s) 2022. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: [email protected].