The role of gender and sex hormones is unclear in host response to lung injury, inflammation, and fibrosis. To examine gender influence on pulmonary fibrosis, male and female rats were given endotracheal injections of either saline or bleomycin. Female rats showed higher mortality rates and more severe fibrosis than did male rats, as indicated by higher levels of lung collagen deposition and fibrogenic cytokine expression. To clarify the potential role of female sex hormones in lung fibrosis, female rats were ovariectomized and treated with either estradiol or vehicle plus endotracheal injections of either saline or bleomycin. The results showed diminished fibrosis in the ovariectomized, bleomycin-treated rats without hormone replacement. Estradiol replacement restored the fibrotic response to that of the intact female mice in terms of lung collagen deposition and cytokine expression, which was accompanied by higher plasma estradiol levels. Furthermore, fibroblasts from bleomycin-treated rats exhibited increased responsiveness to estradiol treatment, causing dose-dependent increases in procollagen 1 and transforming growth factor-beta1 mRNA expression relative to untreated controls. Taken together these findings suggest that female mice may have an exaggerated response to lung injury relative to male mice because of female sex hormones, which have direct fibrogenic activity on lung fibroblasts. This may provide a mechanism for a hormonally mediated intensification of pulmonary fibrosis.