Fragile X syndrome is the most common form of inherited mental retardation in man. The disease is associated with expansion in the number of tandem CGG trinucleotide repeats in the 5' untranslated region of the human FMR1 gene. Transmitting males, individuals who are unaffected carriers of the disease, show a moderate increase in the number of repeat units, while fully penetrant males show a major expansion in repeat number. Major expansion of the repeat in affected males is correlated with methylation of certain restriction enzyme recognition sites in the 5' CpG Island containing the trinucleotide repeat in these patients. Phenotypic expression of the mutation appears to be due to transcriptional silencing of the FMR1 gene. We now report direct high resolution methylation analysis of the trinucleotide repeat and its flanking regions using ligation-mediated PCR genomic sequencing. We find the cytosine residue of all CpG dinucleotides examined within and surrounding the FMR1 trlnucleotide repeat to be unmethylated in the DNA of normal male leukocytes and transmitting male lymphoblasts; these same cytosines are methylated in affected male lymphoblasts, in a somatic cell hybrid containing a fragile X chromosome from an affected male, and in a somatic cell hybrid containing a normal inactive X chromosome. The methylation pattern of the FMR1 5' CpG Island in affected patients as determined by genomic sequencing is remarkably similar to that seen for the X-linked human phosphoglycerate kinase and hypoxanthine phospho ribosyitransferase gene 5' CpG Islands on the Inactive human X chromosome. These results suggest the mechanism(s) silencing genes on the Inactive X chromosome may also be involved in repression of FMR1 gene expression in fragile X patients.