Estradiol as a mechanism for sex differences in the development of an addicted phenotype following extended access cocaine self-administration

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2013 Aug;38(9):1698-705. doi: 10.1038/npp.2013.68. Epub 2013 Mar 12.


Women progress more rapidly after initial cocaine use to addiction as compared with men. Similarly, female rats appear to require less cocaine exposure before developing an addicted phenotype with evidence implicating estradiol as a potential mechanism. The goals of this study were to determine whether there are sex differences in the magnitude of the addicted phenotype under optimized conditions that induce its development in both males and females and to determine the role of estradiol in this effect. Following acquisition, intact male and intact and ovariectomized (OVX) female rats with and without estradiol replacement were given access to cocaine (1.5 mg/kg per infusion) under either extended access (ExA; discrete trial procedure, 4 trials/h, 24 h/day, 10 days) or short access (ShA) conditions (20 infusions maximum/day, 3 days). Motivation to obtain cocaine (0.5 mg/kg/infusion), as assessed under a progressive-ratio schedule, was then examined following a 2-week abstinence period. Results showed that following ExA self-administration, both males and females developed an addicted phenotype, with 9 of 11 males and 8 of 10 females showing a greater than 15% increase in levels of motivation to obtain cocaine as compared with ShA controls. In contrast, within the OVX groups, responding was enhanced from control levels after ExA self-administration in estradiol-replaced rats only. These results suggest that while females may have an enhanced vulnerability to developing an addicted phenotype, they may be similar to males once addiction has developed. These results also suggest that estradiol is critically involved in the development of an addicted phenotype in females.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Addictive / physiopathology*
  • Cocaine / administration & dosage*
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology
  • Estradiol / administration & dosage
  • Estradiol / pharmacology
  • Estradiol / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy / psychology
  • Injections, Subcutaneous
  • Male
  • Motivation / physiology
  • Ovariectomy / psychology
  • Phenotype
  • Rats
  • Reinforcement Schedule
  • Self Administration
  • Sex Characteristics*


  • Estradiol
  • Cocaine