We have shown previously (S. Thun-Battersby et al., Cancer Res., 59: 3627-3633, 1999) that power-line frequency (50-Hz) magnetic fields (MFs) at micro T-flux densities enhance mammary gland tumor development and growth in the 7,12-dimethylbenz(a)anthracene (DMBA) model of breast cancer in female Sprague-Dawley (SD) rats. We also demonstrated that MF exposure results in an enhanced proliferative activity of the mammary epithelium of SD rats (M. Fedrowitz et al., Cancer Res., 62: 1356-1363, 2002), which is a likely explanation for the cocarcinogenic or tumor-promoting effects of MF exposure in the DMBA model. However, in contrast with our data, in a similar study conducted by Battelle in the United States, no evidence for a cocarcinogenic or tumor-promoting effect of MF exposure was found in the DMBA model in SD rats (L. E. Anderson et al., Carcinogenesis, 20: 1615-1620, 1999). Probably the most important difference between our and the Battelle studies was the use of different substrains of SD rats; the United States rats were much more susceptible to DMBA than the rats used in our studies. This prompted us to compare different substrains of SD outbred rats in our laboratory in respect to MF effects on cell proliferation in the mammary gland, susceptibility to DMBA-induced mammary cancer, and MF effects on mammary tumor development and growth in the DMBA model. The SD substrain (termed "SD1") used in all of our previous studies was considered MF-sensitive and used for comparison with another substrain ("SD2") obtained from the same breeder. In contrast with SD1 rats, no enhanced cell proliferation was determined after MF exposure in SD2 rats. MF exposure significantly increased mammary tumor development and growth in SD1 but not SD2 rats. These data indicate that the genetic background plays a pivotal role in effects of MF exposure. Different strains or substrains of rats may serve to evaluate the genetic factors underlying sensitivity to cocarcinogenic or tumor-promoting effects of MF exposure.