Very different fetal hemoglobin levels among adult sickle cell anemia patients suggest genetic modulation of gamma-globin gene expression. In sickle cell anemia, different fetal hemoglobin levels are associated with distinct beta-globin gene haplotypes. Haplotype may be a marker for linked DNA that modulates gamma-globin gene expression. From 295 individuals with sickle cell anemia, we chose for detailed studies 53 patients who had the highest or the lowest fetal hemoglobin levels and 7 patients whose fetal hemoglobin levels were atypical of their haplotype. In these individuals, we examined portions of the beta-globin gene locus control region hypersensitive sites two and three, an (AT)x(T)y repeat 5' to the beta-globin gene, a 4-bp deletion 5' to the A gamma T gene, promoters of both gamma-globin genes, 5' flanking region of the G gamma-globin gene, and A gamma-globin gene IVS-II. Of the regions we studied all polymorphisms were always haplotype-linked and no additional mutations were present. This suggested that variations in these areas are uncommon mechanisms of fetal hemoglobin modulation in sickle cell anemia. Whereas unexamined cis-acting sequences may regulate gamma-globin gene transcription, trans-acting factors may play a more important role.