Eating is modulated by estradiol in females of many species and in women. To further investigate the estrogen receptor mechanism mediating this effect, ovariectomized rats and mice were treated with estradiol benzoate or the estrogen receptor-alpha (ER-alpha)-selective agonist PPT. PPT inhibited eating in rats much more rapidly than estradiol (approximately 2-6 h versus >24 h). In contrast, the latencies to vaginal estrus after PPT and estradiol were similar (>24 h). PPT also inhibited eating within a few hours in wild-type mice, but failed to inhibit eating in transgenic mice deficient in ER-alpha (ERalphaKO mice). PPT, but not estradiol, induced the expression of c-Fos in corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH)-expressing cells of the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) of the hypothalamus within 90-180 min in rats. Both PPT and estradiol reduced c-Fos expression in an ER-alpha-containing area of the nucleus of the solitary tract. The anomalously rapid eating-inhibitory effect of PPT suggests that PPT's neuropharmacological effect differs from estradiol's, perhaps because PPT differentially activates membrane versus nuclear ER-alpha or because PPT activates non-ER-alpha membrane estrogen receptors in addition to ER-alpha. The failure of PPT to inhibit eating in ERalphaKO mice, however, indicates that ER-alpha is necessary for PPT's eating-inhibitory action and that any PPT-induced activation of non-ER-alpha estrogen receptors is not sufficient to inhibit eating. Finally, the rapid induction of c-Fos in CRH-expressing cells in the PVN by PPT suggests that PPT elicits a neural response that is similar to that elicited by stress or aversive emotional stimuli.