The gonadal hormone estradiol modulates mesolimbic dopamine systems in the female rat. This modulatory
effect is thought to be responsible for the observed effects of estradiol on motivated behaviors. Dopamine acting in the
nucleus accumbens is thought to be important for the attribution of incentive motivational properties to cues that predict
reward delivery, while dopamine in the striatum is associated with the expression of repetitive or stereotyped behaviors.
Elevated concentrations of estradiol are associated with increased motivation for sex or cues associated with access to a
mate, while simultaneously attenuating motivation for food. This shift in motivational salience is important for adaptive
choice behavior in the natural environment. Additionally, estradiol’s adaptive effects on motivation can be maladaptive
when increasing motivation for non-natural reinforcers, such as drugs of abuse. Here we discuss the effect of estradiol on
mesotelencephalic dopamine transmission and subsequent effects on motivated behaviors.
Keywords: Dopamine, drugs of abuse, estradiol, food, motivation, sex differences, sex.
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