In nondiabetic animals, estrogen has been shown to provide significant neuroprotection in focal and transient forebrain ischemia models. However, that neuroprotection may be diminished or lost in the diabetic. In this study, we compared the level of brain damage in intact, ovariectomized (OVX) and 17beta-estradiol (E(2))-treated OVX female rats rendered diabetic and chronically ( approximately 4 weeks) hyperglycemic via streptozotocin (STZ). Rats were subjected to 20 min of unilateral transient forebrain ischemia (reduction in cortical CBF to 20% of baseline). Neurologic function was analyzed daily and brain histopathology (in H&E-stained sections) was evaluated at 72 h of reperfusion. Supplemental histopathologic information was obtained from additional TUNEL-stained sections. When comparing neurologic outcome scores in the three groups, E(2)-treated OVX females displayed the highest degree of dysfunction and intact females the least (OVX rats not treated with E(2) were intermediate), with the difference between the intact and E(2)-treated groups being statistically significant. That same order was often observed with the regional histopathologic analyses of H&E-stained tissue. A significantly higher magnitude of neuronal loss in both OVX groups, when compared to intact females, was observed in the CA4 sector of the hippocampus and in the cortex. In addition, cell loss in the dorsal thalamus of the E(2)-treated group was significantly greater than in the intact females. Those results were generally corroborated by TUNEL-analysis, with 67% of the E(2)-treated, 33% of the control OVX, and only 17% of the intact females displaying TUNEL-positive cells in multiple regions. In conclusion, the present findings strongly suggest that the neuroprotective benefits of estrogen replacement therapy may be lost in the diabetic female rat.