The patterns of expression of glutathione S-transferases A1 and A2 in human liver (hGSTA1 and hGSTA2, respectively) are highly variable, notably in the ratio of hGSTA1/hGSTA2. We investigated if this variation had a genetic basis by sequencing the proximal promoters (-721 to -1 nucleotides) of hGSTA1 and hGSTA2, using 55 samples of human liver that exemplified the variability of hGSTA1 and hGSTA2 expression. Variants were found in the hGSTA1 gene: -631T or G, -567T, -69C, -52G, designated as hGSTA1*A; and -631G, -567G, -69T, -52A, designated as hGSTA1*B. Genotyping for the substitution -69C > T by polymerase chain reaction restriction fragment length polymorphism (PCR-RFLP), showed that the polymorphism was widespread in Caucasians, African-Americans and Hispanics, and that it appeared to conform to allelic variation. Constructs consisting of the proximal promoters of hGSTA1*A, hGSTA1*B or hGSTA2, with luciferase as a reporter gene, showed differential expression when transfected into HepG2 cells: hGSTA1*A approximately hGSTA2 > hGSTA1*B. Similarly, mean levels of hGSTA1 protein expression in liver cytosols decreased significantly according to genotype: hGSTA1*A > hGSTA1-heterozygous > hGSTA1*B. Conversely, mean hGSTA2 expression increased according to the same order of hGSTA1 genotype. Consequently, the ratio of GSTA1/GSTA2 was highly hGSTA1 allele-specific. Because the polymorphism in hGSTA1 correlates with hGSTA1 and hGSTA2 expression in liver, and hGSTA1-1 and hGSTA2-2 exhibit differential catalysis of the detoxification of carcinogen metabolites and chemotherapeutics, the polymorphism is expected to be of significance for individual risk of cancer or individual response to chemotherapeutic agents.