In the majority of sites of methylation in the DNA of mammalian cells, the symmetry of methylation is restored within a few minutes of the passage of a replication fork. However, it has been shown that daughter strand methylation in immortalised cell lines is delayed in a substantial minority of sites for up to several hours after replication. We report here the results of two new approaches to the determination of the functional significance of delayed DNA methylation in mammalian cells. Firstly, we demonstrate that normal, nontransformed cells (human peripheral lymphocytes in short-term primary culture) have comparable proportions of delayed DNA methylation to many immortalised cell lines, showing that delayed DNA methylation is not just a secondary consequence of abnormally high methionine requirements commonly observed in transformed cells and that delayed DNA methylation would be unlikely not to occur in vivo. Secondly, we have used 5-aza-2′-deoxycytidine (5azadCyd) to derive subciones of cells from the Chinese hamster ovary cell line which have stably hypomethylated DNA. In three of these subclones which had lost on average one fourth of the methylation sites from their genomes, the proportion of daughter strand methylation which was delayed after replication was reduced by less than 10%. If delayed DNA methylation were site-specific, this implies that of the order of twice the number of "immediate" methylation sites than delayed methylation sites had been lost from the genomes of these hypomethylated subclones. Thus, delayed DNA methylation is an integral part of the process whereby replicating mammalian cells maintain the pattern of methylation in their genomes. These observations are discussed in relation to the significance of delayed DNA methylation for the accurate maintenance of methylation patterns in the genome and the consequent implications for the possible role of methylated deoxycytidines in mammalian gene control.