In studies on adenovirus promoters, predominantly on the late E2A promoter of adenovirus type 2 (Ad2), we have demonstrated by a number of experimental approaches that the sequence-specific methylation of three 5'-CCGG-3' sequences inactivates this promoter. Recently, we have developed a cell-free transcription system in which the methylation-inactivation of eukaryotic promoters can be studied in detail. It has also been shown that methylation-caused promoter inactivation can be reversed by the 289 amino acid E1A protein of Ad2 or of adenovirus type 5. In the presence of this protein with a transactivating effect, transcription is initiated at the authentic cap site of the methylated late E2A promoter. A similar reactivation of the methylated late E2A promoter can also be effected by a cis-acting genetic element, i.e., the strong enhancer of human cytomegalovirus. Further studies will be directed toward the biochemical mechanisms of promoter silencing by sequence-specific methylations.