Mannan-binding protein (MBP) is a serum lectin participating in the innate immune defense by opsonizing various microorganisms for phagocytosis. Opsonization defect due to MBP deficiency and low levels of the protein can partially be explained by the dominant effect of three different mutations in the structural part of the MBP gene. Large interracial differences in the frequencies of these variants have previously been described, but they cannot explain the large interindividual variation in MBP serum concentration. We describe the existence of additional polymorphisms at positions -550 (H/L variants) and -221 (X/Y variants) in the promoter region of the gene. The promoter haplotypes, HY, LY, and LX, show associations with high, medium, and low levels of MBP serum concentrations, respectively. Moreover, this represents a genetic system with additive effect of haplotypes in which a low producing LX haplotype in the homozygous state down-regulates the basal expression of MBP as effectively as a single structural variant. Populations of pure Eskimos, Caucasoids, and black Africans show marked interethnic differences in the frequencies of promoter haplotypes regulating the expression of the normal peptide, with the HY haplotype frequency varying from 0.83 in Eskimos via 0.33 in Caucasoids to 0.08 in Africans. The LY haplotype frequency varies from 0.04 in Eskimos via 0.39 in Caucasoids to 0.23 in Africans. The LX haplotype frequency varies from 0.03 in Eskimos via 0.24 in Caucasoids to 0.23 in Africans. The effect of the promoter variants can explain almost all of the ethnic differences not explainable by the structural variants alone.