DNA methylation is essential for development. Two DNA methyltransferases, Dnmt3a and Dnmt3b, contribute to the creation of DNA methylation patterns in embryos. We demonstrated that the Dnmt3a and Dnmt3b proteins are expressed at different stages of embryogenesis. Dnmt3b is specifically expressed in totipotent embryonic cells, such as inner cell mass, epiblast and embryonic ectoderm cells, whilst Dnmt3a is significantly and ubiquitously expressed after E10.5. The difference in the expression stages of the Dnmt3a and Dnmt3b proteins may contribute to their distinct functions during the embryogenesis. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.