Previous studies have reported that the expression of the opioid binding protein/cell adhesion molecule-like (OPCML) gene was frequently downregulated in various of types of cancer. However, little is known regarding the expression of the OPCML gene in gastric cancer. The present study identified that OPCML was downregulated in the gastric cancer SGC7901, KATO III, MKN45, MKN74, SNU1, AGS, N87 and a gastric mucosa cell line GES1, compared with normal gastric tissues by reverse transcription-quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR). To investigate whether the downregulation of OPCML was due to promoter hypermethylation, the methylation of the OPCML promoter was assessed by methylation-specific polymerase chain reaction. Hypermethylation of the OPCML promoter was observed in the gastric cancer MKN45 cell lines, but was not as evident in normal gastric tissue. The methylation inhibitor 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine was used to remove the methylation of the OPCML gene promoter, following which the expression of OPCML was restored. In addition, the function of the OPCML gene was studied in vitro, and it was found that the restoration expression of OPCML could lead to the suppression of cell growth. In conclusion, the present study has shown that OPCML, which acts as a tumor suppressor, was silenced in gastric cancer cell lines via aberrant hypermethylation of the promoter CpG islands, which may provide a novel molecular approach for the early diagnosis of gastric cancer.