A comprehensive analysis of initial thymus size and involution rate has not been quantitated for different genetic backgrounds of mice, thus genetic linkage analysis of thymic involution has not been possible. Here, we have used a mathematical method to analyze the age-related decline in thymocyte count in C57B/6 and DBA/2 mice and have observed that thymic involution could be best fit with a negative exponential curve N(t) = β0 × exp(-β1 t), where t represents the age (day). This regression model was applied to C57BL/6 × DBA/2 (B × D) recombinant inbred strains of mice to identify the genetic loci influencing age-related thymic involution. There was a dramatic genetic effect of B and D alleles on thymocyte count at young age and the age-related thymic involution rate. The strongest quantitative trait loci (QTL) influencing the rate of thymic involution were mapped to mouse chromosome (Chr) 9 (D9Mit20 at 62 cM) and Chr 10 (D10Mit61 at 32 cM). The strongest QTLs influencing the initial thymocyte count were mapped to ChrX (DXMit324 at 26.5 cM) and Chr 3 (D3Mit127 at 70.3 cM). The present study suggests that the initial thymus size and the rate of thymic involution may be influenced by a relatively small number of genetic loci. © 2003 Nature Publishing Group All rights reserved.