To determine why pregnancy protects against intimal proliferation in a mouse model of vessel injury, we administered chorionic gonadotropin to intact and ovariectomized female mice. Chorionic gonadotropin markedly suppressed intimal proliferation in intact but not in ovariectomized female mice, indicating that the protective effects of chorionic gonadotropin require ovarian function. To test whether estrogen or progesterone might mediate the protective effects of pregnancy and chorionic gonadotropin, we administered estrogen and progesterone to ovariectomized mice. Estrogen administration to ovariectomized mice to achieve the elevated levels seen in pregnancy was sufficient to reproduce the marked suppression of intimal proliferation in response to vessel injury. Progesterone administration reduced intimal proliferation to a lesser degree and was correlated with increases in estrogen to levels seen in nonpregnant female mice. Staining for proliferating cell nuclear antigen suggested that estrogen reduced medial and intimal cell proliferation. Both the classic estrogen receptor-alpha and the recently discovered estrogen receptor-beta are present in vascular tissue as assessed by immunohistochemistry, providing a possible mechanism for the effects of estrogen. These results suggest that the protective effects of estrogen do not plateau at levels seen in normal females but increase further with estrogen levels up through levels seen during pregnancy.