Key message Quantitative trait loci conferring adult plant resistance to Ug99 stem rust in Thatcher wheat display complementary gene action suggesting multiple quantitative trait loci are needed for effective resistance. Abstract Adult plant resistance (APR) in wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) to stem rust, caused by Puccinia graminis f. Sp. Tritici (Pgt), is desirable because this resistance can be Pgt race non-specific. Resistance derived from cultivar Thatcher can confer high levels of APR to the virulent Pgt race TTKSK (Ug99) when combined with stem rust resistance gene Sr57 (Lr34). To identify the loci conferring APR in Thatcher, we evaluated 160 RILs derived from Thatcher crossed to susceptible cultivar McNeal for field stem rust reaction in Kenya for two seasons and in St. Paul for one season. All RILs and parents were susceptible as seedlings to race TTKSK. However, adult plant stem rust severities in Kenya varied from 5 to 80 %. Composite interval mapping identified four quantitative trait loci (QTL). Three QTL were inherited from Thatcher and one, Sr57, was inherited from McNeal. The markers closest to the QTL peaks were used in an ANOVA to determine the additive and epistatic effects. A QTL on 3BS was detected in all three environments and explained 27–35 % of the variation. The peak of this QTL was at the same location as the Sr12 seedling resistance gene effective to race SCCSC. Epistatic interactions were significant between Sr12 and QTL on chromosome arms 1AL and 2BS. Though Sr12 cosegregated with the largest effect QTL, lines with Sr12 were not always resistant. The data suggest that Sr12 or a linked gene, though not effective to race TTKSK alone, confers APR when combined with other resistance loci.