Shifts in preferred learning strategy across the estrous cycle in female rats

Horm Behav. 2004 May;45(5):330-8. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2004.01.005.


The current status of the effects of ovarian steroids on learning and memory remains somewhat unclear, despite a large undertaking to evaluate these effects. What is emerging from this literature is that estrogen, and perhaps progesterone, influences learning and memory, but does so in a task-dependent manner. Previously, we have shown that ovariectomized rats given acute treatments of estrogen acquire allocentric or "place" tasks more easily than do rats deprived of estrogen, but acquire egocentric or "response" learning tasks more slowly than do those deprived of hormone, suggesting that estrogen treatment may bias the strategy a rat is able to use to solve tasks. To determine if natural fluctuations in ovarian hormones influence cognitive strategy, we tested whether strategy use fluctuated across the estrous cycle in reproductively intact female rats. We found that in two tasks in which rats freely choose the strategy used to solve the task, rats were more likely to use place strategies at proestrous, that is, when ovarian steroids are high. Conversely, estrous rats were biased toward response strategies. The data suggest that natural fluctuations in ovarian steroids may bias the neural system used and thus the cognitive strategies chosen during learning and memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Psychological / physiology
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology*
  • Diestrus / physiology
  • Estrous Cycle / physiology*
  • Estrus / physiology
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Maze Learning / physiology*
  • Memory / physiology
  • Proestrus / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley