The effects of ethanol (EtOH) consumption by adult female C57B1/6 mice on lymphocyte populations of the mesenteric lymph nodes (MLNs) were determined by feeding mice with the Lieber-DeCarli liquid diet by a pair-feeding paradigm. Histological analysis of the MLNs of EtOH-fed mice showed a progressive loss of lymphocytes from the medullary regions at 3, 5, and 7 days after initiation of the EtOH diet. The stromal cells in the medullary region also demonstrated a progressive alteration in stellate morphological features at times corresponding to those of loss of lymphocytes from this region. Microscopic evaluation of the follicle regions of MLNs obtained from mice fed an EtOH-containing diet showed no appreciable alterations in morphological characteristics. The number of tingible body macrophages in the germinal centers of the follicles, however, was increased after 3 days of EtOH diet feeding and declined progressively after this time. Flow cytometric analysis of isolated lymphocytes showed a depletion of both T and B cell populations from the MLNs. In contrast to B cells, however, T cells were depleted through 7 days of EtOH diet feeding. Total RNA isolated from the MLNs of mice consuming the EtOH-containing diet was progressively degraded. No degradation of DNA was observed. These study results establish that continuous consumption of dietary EtOH adversely affects the cellularity of MLN, resulting in a progressive loss of lymphocytes that is associated with degradation of total RNA.