In mammals, DNA methylation is crucial for embryonic development and germ cell differentiation. The DNA methylation. patterns are created by de novo-type DNA methyltransferases (Dnmts) 3a and 3b. Dnmt3a is crucial for global methylation, including that of imprinted genes in germ cells. In eukaryotic nuclei, genomic DNA is packaged into multinucleosomes with linker histone H1, which binds to core nucleosomes, simultaneously making contacts in the linker DNA that separates adjacent nucleosomes. In the present study, we prepared oligonucleosomes from HeLa nuclei with or without linker histone H1 and used them as a substrate for Dnmt3a. Removal of histone H1 enhanced the DNA methylation activity. Furthermore, Dnmt3a preferentially methylated the linker between the two nucleosome core regions of reconstituted dinucleosomes, and the binding of histone H1 inhibited the DNA methylation activity of Dnmt3a towards the linker DNA. Since an identical amount of histone H1 did not inhibit the activity towards naked DNA, the inhibitory effect of histone H1 was not on the Dnmt3a catalytic activity but on its preferential location in the linker DNA of the dinucleosomes. The central globular domain and C-terminal tail of the histone H1 molecule were indispensable for inhibition of the DNA methylation activity of Dnmt3a. We propose that the binding and release of histone H1 from the linker portion of chromatin may regulate the local DNA methylation of the genome by Dnmt3a, which is expressed ubiquitously in somatic cells in vivo. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.