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

Donna L. Korol, Emily L. Malin, Kristine A. Borden, Rachel A. Busby, Julia Couper-Leo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

208 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)330-338
Number of pages9
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Estrous cycle
  • Hippocampus
  • Learning strategy
  • Memory systems
  • Place learning
  • Response learning
  • Striatum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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