Estrogen has diverse effects on inflammation and immune responses. That pregnancy is associated with remission of some autoimmune diseases and exacerbation of others suggests that physiological fluctuation in estrogen levels could affect the immune responses in humans. However, the molecular basis for these phenomena is poorly understood. We hypothesized that fluctuations of estrogen levels modulate intracellular signaling for immune responses via estrogen receptors (ERs). In reporter assays, 17beta-estradiol (E2) at a physiologically high concentration increased the activity of NF-kappaB in Jurkat cells stimulated by PMA/ionomycin or TNF-alpha. Overexpression and RNA interference experiments suggested that the effects were mediated through ERbeta. Immunoprecipitation assay showed that both ERalpha and ERbeta are directly associated with NF-kappaB in the cell nucleus. Using chromatin immunoprecipitation assay, we confirmed that ERalpha and ERbeta associated with NF-kappaB and steroid hormone coactivators at the promoter region of NF-kappaB regulated gene. Considering that NF-kappaB regulates the expression of various genes essential for cell growth and death, estrogen could regulate the fate of T cells by affecting the activity of NF-kappaB. To determine whether E2 alters the fate of T cells, we investigated E2 actions on T cell apoptosis, a well-known NF-kappaB-mediated phenomenon. E2 increased apoptosis of Jurkat cells and decreased that of human peripheral blood T cells. Our results indicate that E2 at a physiologically high concentration modulates NF-kappaB signaling in human T cells via ERbeta and affects T cell survival, suggesting that these actions may underlie the gender differences in autoimmune diseases.