17beta-estradiol has been reported to possess antidepressant-like activity in animal models of depression, although the mechanism for its effect is not well understood. The present study is an effort in this direction to explore the mechanism of the antidepressant-like effect of 17beta-estradiol in a mouse model(s) of behavioral depression (despair behavior). Despair behavior, expressed as helplessness to escape from a situation (immobility period), as in a forced swim test in which the animals are forced to swim for a total of 6 min, was recorded. The antiimmobility effects (antidepressant-like) of 17beta-estradiol were compared with those of standard drugs like venlafaxine (16 mg/kg, i.p.). 17beta-estradiol produced a U-shaped effect in decreasing the immobility period. It had no effect on locomotor activity of the animal. The antidepressant-like effect was comparable to that of venlafaxine (16 mg/kg, i.p.). 17beta-estradiol also exhibited a similar profile of antidepressant action in the tail suspension test. When coadministered with other antidepressant drugs, 17beta-estradiol (5 microg/kg, i.p.) potentiated the antiimmobility effect of subeffective doses of fluoxetine (5 mg/kg, i.p.), venlafaxine (2 mg/kg, i.p.), or bupropion (10 mg/kg, i.p.), but not of desipramine (5 mg/kg, i.p.) or tranylcypromine (2 mg/kg, i.p.), in the forced swim test. The reduction in the immobility period elicited by 17beta-estradiol (20 microg/kg, i.p.) was reversed by haloperidol (0.5 mg/kg, i.p.; a D(2) dopamine receptor antagonist), SCH 23390 (0.5 mg/kg, i.p.; a D(1) dopamine receptor antagonist), and sulpiride (5 mg/kg, i.p.; a specific dopamine D(2) receptor antagonist). In mice pretreated with (+)-pentazocine (2.5 mg/kg, i.p.; a high-affinity sigma-1 receptor agonist), 17beta-estradiol (5 microg/kg, i.p.) produced a synergistic effect. In contrast, pretreatment with progesterone (10 mg/kg, s.c.; a sigma-1 receptor antagonist neurosteroid), rimcazole (5 mg/kg, i.p.; another sigma-1 receptor antagonist), or BD 1047 (1 mg/kg, i.p.; a novel sigma-1 receptor antagonist) reversed the antiimmobility effects of 17beta-estradiol (20 microg/kg, i.p.). Similarly, in mice pretreated with a subthreshold dose of 8-hydroxy-2-(di-n-propylamino)tetralin (8-OH-DPAT, a 5-HT1A serotonin receptor agonist), 17beta-estradiol (5 microg/kg, i.p.) produced an antidepressant-like effect. These findings demonstrate that 17beta-estradiol exerted an antidepressant-like effect preferentially through the modulation of dopaminergic and serotonergic receptors. This action may also involve the participation of sigma-1 receptors.