We have identified the promoter/operator region of the zntA gene of Escherichia coli and shown that Zn(II) is the primary inducer of expression of this Zn(II)/Cd(II) export gene. The promoter PzntA shows sequence similarities to the promoters of mercury resistance (mer) operons, including a long spacer region containing an inverted repeat sequence. The gene encoding the transcriptional regulator of PzntA, designated zntR, has been identified from genome sequence data, by expression of the gene product and by insertional inactivation/complementation. The ZntR product is a member of the MerR family of transcriptional regulators and appears to act as a hypersensitive transcriptional switch. A hybrid MerR/ZntR protein has been constructed and indicates that the C-terminal region of ZntR recognizes Zn(II).