Women report greater cigarette cravings during the menstrual cycle phase with higher circulating levels of 17-estradiol (E2), which is metabolized to estrone (E1). Both E2 and E1 bind to estrogen receptors (ERs), which have been highly studied in the breast, uterus, and ovary. Recent studies have found that ERs are also located on GABAergic medium spiny neurons (MSNs) within the nucleus accumbens core (NAcore). Glutamatergic plasticity in NAcore MSNs is altered following nicotine use; however, it is unknown whether estrogens impact this neurobiological consequence. To test the effect of estrogen on nicotine use, we ovariectomized (OVX) female rats that then underwent nicotine self-administration acquisition and compared them to ovary-intact (sham) rats. The OVX animals then received either sesame oil (vehicle), E2, or E11E2 supplementation for 4 or 20 d before nicotine sessions. While both ovary-intact and OVX females readily discriminated levers, OVX females consumed less nicotine than sham females. Further, neither E2 nor E11E2 increased nicotine consumption back to sham levels following OVX, regardless of the duration of the treatment. OVX also rendered NAcore MSNs in a potentiated state following nicotine self-administration, which was reversed by 4 d of systemic E2 treatment. Finally, we found that E2 and E11E2 increased ERa mRNA in the NAcore, but nicotine suppressed this regardless of hormone treatment. Together, these results show that estrogens regulate nicotine neurobiology, but additional factors may be required to restore nicotine consumption to ovary-intact levels.
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