In mouse male germ cells, global DNA methylation occurs in gonocytes at 16-18 days postcoitum. In the present study, we examined which de novo-type DNA methyltransferase, Dnmt3a, Dnmt3a2 or Dnmt3b is expressed in gonocytes at these stages. Immuno-histochemical and Western blot analyses revealed that Dnmt3a2 was the major DNA methyltransferase expressed in gonocytes at 14-18 day postcoitum. Dnmt3L, which is necessary for spermatogenesis, was co-expressed in gonocytes at identical stages to Dnmt3a2. On the other hand, Dnmt3a was expressed not in germ cells but in the Sertoli cells and connective tissue cells that surround gonocytes and spermatogonia. Dnmt3b2, an isoform of Dnmt3b, was expressed faintly but significantly in gonocytes at 16 days postcoitum, and increased in spermatogonia at 4 and 6 days postpartum. The expression of Dnmt3a2, Dnmt3L, and Dnmt3b2 at 14-18 dpc was confirmed by reverse transcriptase-coupled polymerase chain reaction amplification and nucleotide sequencing of the amplified fragments. The results strongly suggest that Dnmt3a2 and Dnmt3L are responsible for the global DNA methylation in mouse male germ cells. (C) 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.