Acquisition and 48-h retention of a step-up active avoidance response were studied in separate age groups of C57BL/6NNia mice (aged 1.5, 3.5, 6, 12, or 26 months) and five strains of genetically autoimmune mice differing in life span. The C57BL/6NNia mice showed no change in ability to acquire the avoidance response between 1.5 and 3.5 months, but showed a steady decline in that ability thereafter. Mouse strains with early-onset autoimmune disorder (NZB/B1NJ, MRL/MpJ-lpr, and BXSB/MpJ) showed declines in acquisition capability between 1.5 and 3.5 months of age, whereas mouse strains with mild, late-onset autoimmune disorder (MRL/MpJ - + and NZBWF1/J) showed stable or improved acquisition during that period. Both the C57BL/6NNia and NZB/BINJ mice showed age-dependent declines in 48-h retention performance by 12 months of age. These findings suggested that while 48-h retention performance deficits were most related to chronological age, avoidance acquisition deficits were related to development of autoimmunity.