Delta-thalassemia is a complex group of inherited disorders of globin genes characterized by impaired synthesis of the delta-globin chain. The T-C substitution was detected at position -77 of the delta-globin gene isolated from three independent Japanese individuals who were homozygotes for delta-thalassemia. To elucidate the significance of the mutation in delta-globin gene expression, we investigated the genotype of three delta-thalassemia homozygotes and 58 normal individuals using dot blot hybridization of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-amplified DNA. The mutation was observed in six alleles of three homozygotes, while no mutation was detected in 116 alleles of normal individuals, thereby indicating the close association of this mutation with the thalassemia phenotype. Since the mutation (TTATCT-TCATCT) is located within the inverted binding motif of GATA-1 (T or A-G-A-T-A-G or A), an erythroid cell-specific transcription factor, we did gel retardation assays using nuclear extracts from the erythroid cells. We found that GATA-1 binds the oligonucleotide spanning positions -61 to -90, but does not bind to the oligonucleotide with the mutation at position -77. Competition gel retardation assays showed that GATA-1 binding can be competed out by the fragment with the GATA-1 motif, but not with the mutant oligonucleotide. Analysis of the transient expression of the CAT gene linked to the delta-globin gene promoter region demonstrated that the construct with the mutant promoter region was expressed about 20- fold less compared with the normal one. Thus, the mutation at position - 77 impairs delta-globin gene expression by abolishing GATA-1 binding to the AGATAA sequence of the promoter region of the delta-globin gene. This provides a good example of involvement of tissue-specific transacting factors in the molecular pathogenesis of hereditary diseases.