Metal-responsive transcription factor-1 (MTF-1) is a zinc finger protein that activates transcription in response to heavy metals such as Zn(II), Cd(II) and Cu(I) and is also involved in the response to hypoxia and oxidative stress. MTF-1 recognizes a specific DNA sequence motif termed the metal response element (MRE), located in the promoter/enhancer region of its target genes. The functional domains of MTF-1 include, besides the DNA-binding and activation domains and signals for subcellular localization (NLS and NES), a cysteine cluster (632)CQCQCAC(638) located near the C-terminus. Here we show that this cysteine cluster mediates homodimerization of human MTF-1, and that dimer formation in vivo is important for basal and especially metal-induced transcriptional activity. Neither nuclear translocation nor DNA binding is impaired in a mutant protein in which these cysteines are replaced by alanines. Although zinc supplementation induces MTF-1 dependent transcription it does not per se enhance dimerization, implying that actual zinc sensing is mediated by another domain. By contrast copper, which on its own activates MTF-1 only weakly in the cell lines tested, stabilizes the dimer by inducing intermolecular disulfide bond formation and synergizes with zinc to boost MTF-1 dependent transcription.