Estradiol promotes and progesterone reduces anxiety-like behavior produced by nicotine withdrawal in female rats

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© 2020 Elsevier Ltd This study assessed sex differences and the role of ovarian hormones in nicotine withdrawal. Study 1 compared physical signs, anxiety-like behavior, and corticosterone levels in male, intact female, and ovariectomized (OVX) female rats during nicotine withdrawal. Estradiol (E2) and progesterone levels were also assessed in intact females that were tested during different phases of the 4-day estrous cycle. Study 2 assessed the role of ovarian hormones in withdrawal by comparing the same measures in OVX rats that received vehicle, E2, or E2+progesterone prior to testing. Briefly, rats received a sham surgery or an ovariectomy procedure. Fifteen days later, rats were prepared with a pump that delivered nicotine for 14 days. On the test day, rats received saline or the nicotinic receptor antagonist, mecamylamine to precipitate withdrawal. Physical signs and anxiety-like behavior were assessed on the elevated plus maze (EPM) and light-dark transfer (LDT) tests. During withdrawal, intact females displayed greater anxiety-like behavior and increases in corticosterone levels as compared to male and OVX rats. Females tested in the estrus phase (when E2 is relatively low) displayed less anxiety-like behavior and had lower corticosterone levels versus all other phases. Anxiety-like behavior and corticosterone levels were positively correlated with E2 and negatively correlated with progesterone levels. Intact females displaying high E2/low progesterone showed greater anxiety-like behavior and corticosterone levels as compared to females displaying low E2/high progesterone. Lastly, OVX-E2 rats displayed greater anxiety-like behavior than OVX-E2+progesterone rats. These data suggest that E2 promotes and progesterone reduces anxiety-like behavior produced by nicotine withdrawal.