Transient global ischemia induces selective, delayed neuronal death in the hippocampal CA1 and delayed cognitive deficits. Estrogen treatment ameliorates hippocampal injury associated with global ischemia. Although much is known about the impact of estrogen on neuronal survival, relatively little is known about its impact on functional outcome assessed behaviorally. We investigated whether long-term estradiol (21-day pellets implanted 14 days prior to ischemia) or acute estradiol (50 μg infused into the lateral ventricles immediately after ischemia) attenuates ischemia-induced cell loss and improves visual and spatial working memory in ovariectomized female rats. Global ischemia significantly impaired visual and spatial memory, assessed by object recognition and object placement tests at 6-9 days. Global ischemia did not affect locomotion, exploration, or anxiety-related behaviors, assessed by an open-field test at 6 days. Long-term estradiol prevented the ischemia-induced deficit in visual working memory, maintaining normal performance in tests with retention intervals of up to 1 h. Long-term estradiol also prevented ischemia-induced deficits in spatial memory tests with short (1 and 7 min), but not longer (15 min), retention intervals. Acute estradiol significantly improved visual memory assessed with short retention intervals, but did not prevent deficits in spatial memory. Acute estradiol significantly increased the number of surviving CA1 neurons, assessed either at 7 days after ischemia or after the completion of behavioral testing 9 days after ischemia. In contrast, chronic estradiol did not reduce CA1 cell death 9 days after ischemia. Thus, long-term estradiol at near physiological levels and acute estradiol administered after ischemic insult improve functional recovery after global ischemia. These findings have important implications for intervention in the neurological sequellae associated with global ischemia.