To gain a better understanding of inherent gender-related effects on autoimmunity, cytokine genes were examined in female and male New Zealand Black X New Zealand White (B/W) mice, which are a murine model of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). In preliminary studies, semiquantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction analysis showed a trend for B/W spleen cell interferon gamma (IFN-gamma) mRNA in B/W female spleen cells to exceed that of males. This difference was obliterated following concanavalin A (Con A) stimulation. Spleen cells from B/W mice of both sexes were then examined at 6, 18, and 27 weeks of age, and results were compared with matched groups of nonautoimmune DBA/2 mice. Pooled splenocytes from all 12 groups of animals were compared simultaneously for expression of mRNA specific for IFN-gamma, interleukin 4 (IL-4) and interleukin 6 (IL-6). Strain was a potent influence on cytokine transcripts. In unstimulated splenocytes from female and male B/W mice, there was a notable trend for IFN-gamma and IL-6 mRNA expression to exceed transcripts from nonautoimmune DBA/2 mice. When comparisons were carried out by gender, a highly significant increase of IFN-gamma transcripts was apparent in B/W females compared to B/W males at the age of 27 weeks. Following Con A incubation, strain and gender differences were eliminated. IL-4 transcript expression was similar in all pools of cells, and age was not an important factor in expression of any transcript. This study represents the first examination of multiple cytokine transcripts in lymphoid cells from B/W mice. In this hormone-sensitive model of SLE, strain and gender determined in vivo expression of IFN-gamma and IL-6 mRNA.