The xenoestrogen bisphenol A (BPA) has been shown to mimic estrogen both in vivo and in vitro. BPA stimulates PRL secretion and the expression of a PRL regulating factor from the posterior pituitary in the estrogen-sensitive Fischer 344 rat (F344), but not in Sprague-Dawley (SD) rats. The goal of the present studies was to examine the in vivo actions of BPA on the reproductive tract. The specific objectives were 1) to characterize the short term effects of BPA on cell proliferation and c-fos expression in the uterus and vagina, and 2) to compare the effects of prolonged exposure to low doses of BPA on the reproductive tract of F344 and SD rats. Treatment with single high doses of BPA induced cell proliferation in the uterus and vagina of ovariectomized F344 rats, as determined by bromodeoxyuridine immunostaining. This proliferation was dose dependent (from 37.5-150 mg/kg) and followed a time course similar to that of estradiol (E2). Quantitative RT-PCR revealed that both BPA and E2 increased c-fos messenger RNA levels in the uterus 14- to 16-fold within 2 h, which returned to basal levels after 6 h. In the vagina, BPA-induced c-fos expression remained elevated for up to 6 h, compared with the transient increase caused by E2. Treatment of F344 rats for 3 days with continuous release capsules that supplied a much lower dose of BPA (approximately 0.3 mg/kg x day) resulted in hypertrophy, hyperplasia, and mucus secretion in the uterus and hyperplasia and cornification of the vaginal epithelium. The reproductive tract of SD rats did not respond to this treatment paradigm with BPA. These studies demonstrate that 1) the molecular and morphological alterations induced by BPA in the uterus and vagina are nearly identical to those induced by estradiol; 2) the vagina appears to be especially sensitive to the estrogenic actions of BPA; 3) the reproductive tract of the inbred F344 rat appears more sensitive to BPA than that of the outbred SD rat; and 4) continuous exposure to microgram levels of BPA is sufficient for exerting estrogenic actions.