Metallothioneins (MTs) are small cysteine-rich proteins that bind heavy metal ions such as zinc, cadmium and copper with high affinity, and have been functionally implicated in heavy metal detoxification and radical scavenging. Transcription of metallothioneins genes is induced by exposure of cells to heavy metals. This induction is mediated by metal-responsive promoter elements (MREs). We have previously cloned the cDNA of an MRE-binding transcription factor (MTF-1) from the mouse. Here we present the human cDNA equivalent of this metal-regulatory factor. Human MTF-1 is a protein of 753 amino acids with 93% amino acid sequence identity to mouse MTF-1 and has an extension of 78 amino acids at the C-terminus without counterpart in the mouse. The factors of both species have the same overall structure including six zinc fingers in the DNA binding domain. We have physically mapped the human MTF-1 gene to human chromosome 1 where it localizes to the short arm in the region 1p32-34, most likely 1p33. Both human and mouse MTF-1 when produced in transfected mammalian cells strongly bind to a consensus MRE of metallothionein promoters. However, human MTF-1 is more effective than the mouse MTF-1 clone in mediating zinc-induced transcription.