Chronic estrogen administration can lead to thymic atrophy in rodents. In this article we report that the Brown Norway (BN) rat is sensitive to thymic atrophy induced by the estrogen diethylstilbestrol (DES). By contrast, DES does not induce significant thymic atrophy in the August × Copenhagen-Irish (ACI) strain. The sensitivity of the BN rat to DES-induced thymic atrophy appears to segregate as an incompletely dominant trait in crosses between the BN and ACI strains. In a (BN × ACI)F2 population, we find strong evidence for three major genetic determinants of sensitivity to DES-induced thymic atrophy on rat Chromosome (RNO) 10 and RNO2. Genotypes at these loci, termed Esta1, 2, and 3, do not have a significant impact on the ability of DES to induce pituitary tumorigenesis or inhibit growth of these F2 rats. These data indicate that the genetic factors that control DES-induced thymic atrophy are distinct from those that control the effects of DES on pituitary mass and body mass. The Esta intervals on RNO10 and RNO2 overlap with loci that control sensitivity to radiation-induced thymocyte apoptosis, as well as susceptibility to a variety of allergic and autoimmune pathologies, including allergic encephalitis, arthritis, and glomerulonephritis in rodents. These observations suggest that common genetic determinants may control sensitivity to estrogen-induced thymic atrophy, maintenance of thymocyte homeostasis, and immune function.
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