A primary haplotype (H1) of the microtubule-associated protein Tau (MAPT) gene is associated with Parkinson's disease (PD). However, the mechanism for disease susceptibility remains unknown. We examined the promoter region of MAPT and identified single nucleotide polymorphisms and insertions of 1 to 11 nucleotides. These polymorphisms corresponded to the previously characterized haplotypes, H1 and H2, as well as a novel variant of the H1 haplotype, H1'. As observed in other studies, we demonstrated a significant association with the H1/H1 promoter genotype and PD in a cohort of 206 idiopathic late-onset cases. This is in contrast with a panel of 13 early-onset PD patients, for whom we did not detect any mutations in MAPT. By examining single nucleotide polymorphisms in adjacent genes, we showed that linkage disequilibrium does not extend beyond the MAPT haplotype to neighboring genes. To define the mechanism of disease susceptibility, we examined the transcriptional activity of the promoter haplotypes using a luciferase reporter assay. We demonstrated in two human cell lines, SK-N-MC and 293, that the H1 haplotype was more efficient at driving gene expression than the H2 haplotype. Our data suggest that an increase in expression of the MAPT gene is a susceptibility factor in idiopathic PD.