1. Estrogens are used as drugs and estrogen exposure is a risk factor for hormone-dependent diseases such as breast cancer. Sulfate conjugation is an important pathway for estrogen metabolism. The sulfotransferase (SULT) enzyme SULT1E1 has the lowest K(m) values for estrogens and catecholestrogens of the 10 known human SULT isoforms. 2. We previously cloned and characterized the human SULT1E1 cDNA and gene as steps toward pharmacogenetic studies. In the present experiments, we set out to determine whether common, functionally significant genetic polymorphisms might exist for SULT1E1. As a first step, we 'resequenced' the eight SULT1E1 exons and exon-intron splice junctions as well as portions of the 5'-flanking region using DNA from 60 African-American and 60 Caucasian-American subjects. 3. In all, 23 polymorphisms, 22 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and one insertion deletion were observed. There were three nonsynonymous coding SNPs (cSNPs) that altered the following encoded amino acids: Asp22Tyr, Ala32Val and Pro253His. Among these, 12 pairs of SNPs were tightly linked. In addition, 12 unambiguous SULT1E1 haplotypes were identified, including six that were common to both populations studied. 4. Transient expression in COS-1 cells of constructs containing the three nonsynonymous cSNPs showed significant decreases in SULT1E1 activity for the Tyr22 and Val32 allozymes, with corresponding decreases in levels of immunoreactive protein. There were no changes in levels of either activity or immunoreactive protein for the His253 allozyme. Apparent K(m) values of the Val32 allozyme for the two cosubstrates for the reaction, 17beta-estradiol and 3'-phosphoadenosine 5'-phosphosulfate, were not significantly different from those of the wild-type enzyme, but there was a two- to three-fold increase in K(m) values for the His253 allozyme and a greater than five-fold increase for the Tyr22 allozyme. 5. These observations raise the possibility that genetically determined variation in SULT1E1-catalyzed estrogen sulfation might contribute to the pathophysiology of estrogen-dependent diseases as well as variation in the biotransformation of exogenously administered estrogens.