Developmental exposure to noninherited maternal antigens (NIMA) exerts a tolerizing or sensitizing influence on clinical transplantation in humans and experimental animals. The aim of this study was to determine if strain and gender differences influence the NIMA effect. Six different mouse strain backcross matings of F(1) females with homozygous males ('NIMA backcross') and corresponding control breedings of F1 males with homozygous females were performed. H-2 homozygous offspring underwent heterotopic heart transplantation from fully allogeneic donors expressing noninherited H-2 antigens. A NIMA tolerizing effect on heart allograft outcome was found in three of six breeding models. In all three cases, the tolerizing antigens were from an H-2(d+) strain. The tolerogenic effect was greatest in male as compared with female recipients. Offspring from the three breeding models in which no tolerance was seen, appeared to be sensitized based on poorer graft survival, or enhanced T- or B-cell responses to the noninherited H-2(b or k) antigens. Significantly higher percentages of maternal antigen(+) cells were found in the peripheral blood of tolerant versus nontolerant strains of backcross mice prior to transplant. Our findings imply that transplants are predisposed to tolerance or rejection due to recipient developmental history and immunogenetic background.