Inflammatory molecules, such as cyclooxygenase (COX), a prostaglandin synthetic enzyme, have been identified as a marker of depressive symptomology. Previously, we have observed elevated basal COX-2 expression in the hypothalamus of adult male rats treated neonatally with lipopolysaccharide (LPS), which might suggest a phenotype for disrupted hedonic behavior, a symptom of depression. However, COX-2 and its contribution to the expression of anhedonic behavior has not been investigated in these males or in female rats across the estrous cycle, which is the purpose of the current work. Here, we examine the effects of a neonatal LPS challenge or saline on the sucrose preference test as a measure of anhedonia, and hypothalamic COX-2 expression, in adult male and freely cycling female rats. Our data indicate a sex difference in that neonatal LPS at postnatal d 14 causes elevated basal expression of hypothalamic COX-2 in male, but not in female, rats. Additionally, baseline sucrose preference in male and female rats was unaltered as a function of neonatal LPS treatment or estrous cycle stage. In both male and female animals, 50 microg/kg LPS in adulthood caused elevated plasma IL-6 and hypothalamic COX-2 expression in neonatally saline-treated rats but significantly less so in neonatally LPS-treated rats of both sexes; this neonatal programming was not evident for sucrose preference or for total fluid intake (even after much higher doses of LPS). Our data are suggestive of a dissociation between inflammation and anhedonic behavior and a differential effect of neonatal inflammation in males and females.