Induced transcription of a battery of stress response genes in mammals, including several phase I and phase II drug-metabolizing enzymes, is regulated by the electrophile responsive element (EpRE). Because previous directed mutagenesis of nucleotide motifs within the large, composite EpRE were shown to affect transcription factor binding and associated induced expression of dependent genes, we hypothesized that naturally-occurring variation or polymorphism in the EpRE sequence, if found, could affect the induced expression of important protective genes like glutathione S-transferases, and that this could be an important determinant of cancer risk in humans and other mammals. To determine whether this occurred in nature, 32 strains and species of inbred mice were screened to examine the EpRE sequence present in the mGSTa1 promoter. Two species, Mus caroli and Mus spretus, showed TGAC-->TGGC mutations in the tandem TGAC motif. Inducibility (15-fold) of the variant Mus spretus EpRE sequence in a reporter gene construct in HepG2 cells was significantly increased versus the wild-type EpRE sequence (8-fold). A comparison of mGSTa1-induced expression in the livers of Mus spretus, Mus caroli, and BALB/cJ mice showed the highest level of mGSTa1 mRNA in livers from the Mus spretus and Mus carolimice. This naturally-occurring polymorphism within the EpRE domain is the first mutation with an associated phenotype to be reported within a promoter regulatory element of a drug metabolizing gene.