High (H) and low (L) antibody responder lines of mice separated by selective breeding present a maximal interline difference in antibody (Ab) response to Ag of different specificities (general genetic regulation). The analysis of SRBC agglutinin response in H line, L line, F1 hybrids, F2, and backcross segregants demonstrates that Ab responsiveness is a polygenic trait regulated by the additive interaction of 5 to 7 independent loci, with an incomplete dominance (44% +/- 7%) of the high response character, and a 30% +/- 10% impact of the environmental factors. The life span of H, L, F1, F2, and backcross populations is correlated positively with 2-ME-resistant agglutinin response (r = 0.97, p less than 0.001) and negatively with 2-ME-sensitive agglutinin response (r = 0.95, p = 0.01) (interpopulation correlation). Similar correlations are also observed in individuals of the various populations, especially in F1 x L backcross, in which the largest phenotypic variance is found. The positive correlation between Ab responsiveness and life span was confirmed by ELISA titration for distinct IgG isotypes (intrapopulation correlation). Malignant lymphomas and chronic nephritis were the two most common diseases observed. The age-adjusted incidence of such diseases, which is largely affected by environmental factors, accounts for the longer life span of H, as compared with L, mouse populations. The longevity of the 30% or less survivors, chiefly determined by the rate of physiologic aging, is a polygenic character regulated by the cumulative interaction of 3 to 7 independent loci, with a complete dominance of the long life trait and an impact of the environmental factors of about 60%. Thus we have grounds for regarding general Ab responsiveness and life span as polygenic traits regulated by a small number of identical or closely linked gene loci, and immune responsiveness as a defense mechanism against neoplastic and inflammatory diseases.