Acute stress impairs spatial memory in male but not female rats: influence of estrous cycle

Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2004 Jul;78(3):569-79. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2004.04.025.


We investigated how sex and estrous cycle influenced spatial recognition memory in the Y-maze after exposure to acute restraint stress. In Experiment 1, intact male and female rats were restrained for 1 h and then 2 h after the start of restraint, rats were trained on the Y-maze. After a 4 h delay, hippocampal-dependent spatial recognition memory was assessed. Acute stress produced opposite patterns between the sexes with spatial memory being impaired in males and facilitated in females. Serum corticosterone measures indicated that both sexes showed a robust corticosterone response after restraint and a moderate corticosterone response after Y-maze exposure. Serum corticosterone levels in response to restraint and Y-maze were not statistically different between the sexes. Experiment 2 examined the influence of the estrous cycle on spatial memory ability after acute stress. Acute stress facilitated spatial memory in females compared to controls, regardless of the estrous cycle phase (estrus and proestrus). Moreover, females in proestrus showed higher serum corticosterone levels during restraint compared to females in estrus. No differences in corticosterone levels were observed at baseline or following 2 h of recovery from restraint. These data show important differences in how sex and estrous cycle influence cognitive functions following acute stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Animals
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Estrus*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Maze Learning
  • Memory Disorders / etiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*


  • Corticosterone