A genetic basis for the regulation of the number of CR1 on E of different normal individuals was investigated by probing Southern blots of their genomic DNA with a 0.75-kb fragment of CR1 cDNA. Using Hind III, we observed a RFLP involving fragments of 7.4 kb and 6.9 kb that correlated with the number of CR1 on E. 32 individuals having only the 7.4-kb restriction fragment had a mean of 661 +/- 33 (SEM) CR1/E, 11 donors having both restriction fragments had a mean of 455 +/- 52 CR1/E, and 7 individuals having only the 6.9-kb fragment had a mean of 156 +/- 13 CR1/E, all means being significantly different (p less than 0.005). Cosegregation in a normal family of the Hind III restriction fragments with the S, F, and F' structural allotypes of CR1 confirmed that the regulatory element identified by these fragments is linked to the CR1 gene. Moreover, an analysis of the relative expression on E of these structural allotypes in association with either the 7.4-kb Hind III fragment or the 6.9-kb fragment showed that this regulatory element is cis-acting. In contrast, quantitation of CR1 of B lymphocytes and neutrophils revealed no differences in total CR1 expression between individuals homozygous for the 7.4-kb and 6.9-kb Hind III fragments. Thus, we have identified a genomic polymorphism that is linked to the CR1 gene and is associated with a cis-acting regulatory element for the expression of CR1 on E.