Receptor activator of NF-kappa B ligand (RANKL) is a membrane-bound signal transducer requisite for differentiation and maintenance of osteoclasts. RANKL expression on stromal/osteoblastic cells is tightly regulated to maintain physiological serum calcium levels and bone mass. These stromal/osteoblastic cells, however, comprise a rather heterogeneous population ranging from immature mesenchymal cells to mature osteoblasts and also respond differently to bone resorptive stimuli. In the mouse coculture system, we also have demonstrated the passage-dependent difference of cultured mouse stromal cells in supporting osteoclastogenesis due to altered RANKL gene expression. To address the issue of what molecular mechanism gives the diversity of RANKL gene expression to stromal/osteoblastic cells, we characterized the mouse RANKL gene promoter that contains two CpG clustering regions; one around the transcription start site, and the other downstream of the vitamin D response element (VDRE). Using earlier- and later-passage mouse ST2 cells, we analyzed the CpG methylation status by sodium bisulfite mapping and found that CpG loci around the transcription start site (-66/+246) were predominantly methylated in later-passage ST2 cells. Moreover, earlier- and later-passage ST2 cells transfected with a RANKL promoter construct showed the same steady-state level of luciferase activity and of the inducible effect of 1,25(OH)(2)D(3). Furthermore, the introduction of methylation to the promoter construct silenced promoter activity. The results suggest that CpG methylation around the transcription start site of the mouse RANKL gene is an important epigenetic event, and that its heterogeneity might cause the diversity of the stromal/osteoblastic cells in RANKL gene expression.