Heavy metal ions are effective inducers of metallothionein gene transcription. The metal response is dependent on short DNA motifs, so-called MREs (metal responsive elements) that occur in multiple copies in the promoter region of these genes. We have analysed an MRE of the mouse metallothionein-I gene (MREd) and we demonstrate that this can function over long distances as a bona fide metal ion-inducible enhancer. The transcription factor Sp1 and a zinc-inducible factor, designated MTF-1, bind to the MREd enhancer in vitro. The combined use of MREd mutants in a transient assay in HeLa cells and a competition band shift assay show that the zinc-inducible formation of the MTF-1/DNA complex in vitro correlates with zinc-inducible transcription in vivo. A chemical methylation interference assay revealed remarkably similar but non-identical guanine interference patterns for the MTF-1 and Sp1 complexes, which may mean that MTF-1 is related to the Sp1 factor.