We report evidence of a polymorphism in the promoter region of IFNGR1 (encoding interferon-γ receptor 1) that has opposite functional effects in different cellular contexts. It is a deletion/insertion polymorphism that is found in Africans but not Europeans or Asians, and has been associated with resistance to severe malaria. We find that the IFNGR1-470del allele acts to suppress binding of nuclear proteins to the IFNGR1 promoter region in a manner that is specific for cell type. In B-lymphocytes, the IFNGR1-470del allele suppresses the binding of a ∼35 kDa nuclear protein and acts to increase reporter gene expression. In epithelial cells, the same allele acts to decrease gene expression and suppresses the binding of ∼90 kDa STAT-1 and STAT-2 proteins. In T-lymphocytes, this allele causes only subtle differences in nuclear protein binding and has no significant effect on gene expression. These findings suggest a mechanism by which a single genetic variant may cause a broad range of phenotypic consequences.