We have analyzed the possible role of the aryl-hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) in the aging process of mice using a homozygous null mouse (Ahr-/-) line as a model. We studied 52 male and female Ahr-/- mice aged from 6-13 months. Forty-six percent died or were ill by 13 months of age. Ahr-/- mice developed age-related lesions in several organs, some of which were apparent after only 9 months of age. Cardiovascular alterations included cardiomyopathy (100%) with hypertrophy and focal fibrosis. Vascular hypertrophy and mild fibrosis were found in the portal areas of the liver (81%), and vascular hypertrophy and mineralization were common in the uterus (70%). Gastric hyperplasia that progressed with age into polyps was evident in the pylorus of 71% of the mice over 9 months of age. Ahr-/- mice had T-cell deficiency in their spleens but not in other lymphoid organs. The immune system deficiency described previously could be the origin for the rectal prolapse found in 48% of the null mice, associated with Helicobacter hepaticus infection. In the dorsal skin (53% incidence), severe, localized, interfollicular and follicular epidermal hyperplasia, with hyperkeratosis and acanthosis, and marked dermal fibrosis, associated with the presence of anagenic hair follicles, were also evident. None of these lesions were found in 42 control (Ahr +/+ or +/-) mice of similar ages. These observations suggest that the AHR protein, in the absence of an apparent exogenous (xenobiotic) ligand, plays an important role in physiology and homeostasis in major organs in mice, and further supports an evolutionary conserved role for this transcription factor.