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1.  Role of Anticonvulsant and Antiepileptogenic Neurosteroids in the Pathophysiology and Treatment of Epilepsy 
This review highlights the role of major endogenous neurosteroids in seizure disorders and the promise of neurosteroid replacement therapy in epilepsy. Neurosteroids are endogenous modulators of seizure susceptibility. Neurosteroids such as allopregnanolone (3α-hydroxy-5α-pregnane-20-one) and allotetrahydrodeoxycorticosterone (3α,21-dihydroxy-5α-pregnan-20-one) are positive modulators of GABA-A receptors. Aside from peripheral tissues, neurosteroids are synthesized within the brain, mostly in principal neurons. Neurosteroids potentiate synaptic GABA-A receptor function and also activate δ-subunit-containing extrasynaptic GABA-A receptors that mediate tonic currents and thus may play an important role in neuronal network excitability and seizure susceptibility. Our studies over the past decade have shown that neurosteroids are broad-spectrum anticonvulsants and confer seizure protection in various animal models. They protect against seizures induced by GABA-A receptor antagonists, 6-Hz model, pilocarpine-induced limbic seizures, and seizures in kindled animals. Unlike benzodiazepines, tolerance does not occur to their actions during chronic administration. Our recent studies provide compelling evidence that neurosteroids may have antiepileptogenic properties. There is emerging evidence that endogenous neurosteroids may play a key role in the pathophysiology of catamenial epilepsy, stress–sensitive seizure conditions, temporal lobe epilepsy, and alcohol-withdrawal seizures. It is suggested that neurosteroid replacement with natural or synthetic neurosteroids may be useful in the treatment of epilepsy. Synthetic analogs of neurosteroids that are devoid of hormonal side effects show promise in the treatment of diverse seizure disorders. Agents that stimulate endogenous production of neurosteroids may also be useful for treatment of epilepsy.
PMCID: PMC3356070  PMID: 22654805
allopregnanolone; THDOC; neurosteroids; seizure; epilepsy; catamenial epilepsy; epileptogenesis; GABA-A receptor
2.  GABAergic neuroactive steroids: a new frontier in bipolar disorders? 
Neurosteroids are synthesized in the brain and modulate brain excitability. There is increasing evidence of their sedative, anesthetic and antiseizure properties, as well as their influence on mood. Currently neurosteroids are classified as pregnane neurosteroids (allopregnanolone and allotetrahydrodeoxycorticosterone), androstane neurosteroids (androstanediol and etiocholanone) or sulfated neurosteroids (pregnenolone sulfate and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate). Both preclinical and clinical findings indicate that progesterone derivative neurosteroids such as allopregnanolone and allotetrahydrodeoxycorticosterone play a role in mood disorders. Clozapine and olanzapine, which were shown to be effective in stabilizing bipolar disorder, elevate pregnenolone levels in rat hippocampus, cerebral cortex, and serum. In lithium-treated mice, the blood levels of allopregnanolone and pregnenolone were elevated compared to control levels. Women diagnosed with bipolar disorder typically show symptomatic exacerbation in relation to the menstrual cycle, and show vulnerability to the onset or recurrence of mood disorders immediately after giving birth, when the levels of neurosteroid derivatives of progesterone drop. Whereas in women who had recovered from bipolar disorder, the plasma concentration of allopregnanolone was elevated compared to either healthy controls or women with major depressive disorder during the premenstrual period. During depressive episodes, blood level of allopregnanolone is low. Treatment with fluoxetine tends to stabilize the levels of neurosteroids in depression. These findings converge to suggest that these steroids have significant mood-stabilizing effect. This hypothesis is consistent with the observation that a number of anticonvulsants are effective therapies for bipolar disorder, a finding also consistent with the antiseizure properties of neurosteroids. Further exploration of action of neuroactive steroids is likely to open new frontiers in the investigation of the etiology and treatment of mood disorders, particularly bipolar disorders.
PMCID: PMC3573983  PMID: 23253178
3.  Neurosteroid interactions with synaptic and extrasynaptic GABAa receptors: regulation of subunit plasticity, phasic and tonic inhibition, and neuronal network excitability 
Psychopharmacology  2013;230(2):10.1007/s00213-013-3276-5.
Neurosteroids are steroids synthesized within the brain with rapid effects on neuronal excitability. Allopregnanolone, allotetrahydrodeoxycorticosterone, and androstanediol are three widely explored prototype endogenous neurosteroids. They have very different targets and functions compared to conventional steroid hormones. Neuronal GABAa receptors are one of the prime molecular targets of neurosteroids.
This review provides a critical appraisal of recent advances in the pharmacology of endogenous neurosteroids that interact with GABAa receptors in the brain. Neurosteroids possess distinct, characteristic effects on the membrane potential and current conductance of the neuron, mainly via potentiation of GABAa receptors at low concentrations and direct activation of receptor chloride channel at higher concentrations. The GABAa receptor mediates two types of inhibition, now characterized as synaptic (phasic) and extrasynaptic (tonic) inhibition. Synaptic release of GABA results in the activation of low-affinity γ2-containing synaptic receptors, while high-affinity δ-containing extrasynaptic receptors are persistently activated by the ambient GABA present in the extracellular fluid. Neurosteroids are potent positive allosteric modulators of synaptic and extrasynaptic GABAa receptors and therefore enhance both phasic and tonic inhibition. Tonic inhibition is specifically more sensitive to neurosteroids. The resulting tonic conductance generates a form of shunting inhibition that controls neuronal network excitability, seizure susceptibility, and behavior.
The growing understanding of the mechanisms of neurosteroid regulation of the structure and function of the synaptic and extrasynaptic GABAa receptors provide many opportunities to create improved therapies for sleep, anxiety, stress, epilepsy, and other neuropsychiatric conditions.
PMCID: PMC3832254  PMID: 24071826
GABA; GABAa receptor; neurosteroid; allopregnanolone; δ-subunit; tonic inhibition; phasic inhibition; extrasynaptic receptors
4.  Neurosteroid Replacement Therapy for Catamenial Epilepsy 
Perimenstural catamenial epilepsy, the cyclical occurrence of seizure exacerbations near the time of menstruation, affects a high proportion of women of reproductive age with drug refractory epilepsy. Enhanced seizure susceptibility in perimenstrual catamenial epilepsy is believed to be due to the withdrawal of the progesterone-derived GABAA receptor modulating neurosteroid allopregnanolone as a result of the fall in progesterone at the time of menstruation. Studies in a rat pseudopregnancy model of catamenial epilepsy indicate that following neurosteroid withdrawal there is enhanced susceptibility to chemoconvulsant seizures. There is also a transitory increase in the frequency of spontaneous seizures in epleptic rats that had experienced pilocarpine-induced status epilepticus. In the catamenial epilepsy model, there is a marked reduction in the antiseizure potency of anticonvulsant drugs, including benzodiazepines and valproate, but an increase in the anticonvulsant potency and protective index of neurosteroids such as allopregnanolone and the neurosteroid analog ganaxolone. The enhanced seizure susceptibility and benzodiazepine-resistance following neurosteroid withdrawal may be related to reduced expression and altered kinetics of synaptic GABAA receptors and increased expression of GABAA receptor subunits (such as α4) that confer benzodiazepine insensitivity. The enhanced potency of neurosteroids may be due to a relative increase following neurosteroid withdrawal in the expression of neurosteroid-sensitive δ-subunit-containing perisynaptic/extrasynaptic GABAA receptors. Positive allosteric modulatory neurosteroids and synthetic analogs such as ganaxolone may be administered to prevent catamenial seizure exacerbations, which we refer to as “neurosteroid replacement therapy.”
PMCID: PMC2682439  PMID: 19332335
catamenial epilepsy; progesterone; neurosteroid; allopregnanolone; ganaxolone; GABAA receptor
5.  Perimenstrual-Like Hormonal Regulation of Extrasynaptic δ-Containing GABAA Receptors Mediating Tonic Inhibition and Neurosteroid Sensitivity 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2014;34(43):14181-14197.
Neurosteroids are endogenous regulators of neuronal excitability and seizure susceptibility. Neurosteroids, such as allopregnanolone (AP; 3α-hydroxy-5α-pregnan-20-one), exhibit enhanced anticonvulsant activity in perimenstrual catamenial epilepsy, a neuroendocrine condition in which seizures are clustered around the menstrual period associated with neurosteroid withdrawal (NSW). However, the molecular mechanisms underlying such enhanced neurosteroid sensitivity remain unclear. Neurosteroids are allosteric modulators of both synaptic (αβγ2-containing) and extrasynaptic (αβδ-containing) GABAA receptors, but they display greater sensitivity toward δ-subunit receptors in dentate gyrus granule cells (DGGCs). Here we report a novel plasticity of extrasynaptic δ-containing GABAA receptors in the dentate gyrus in a mouse perimenstrual-like model of NSW. In molecular and immunofluorescence studies, a significant increase occurred in δ subunits, but not α1, α2, β2, and γ2 subunits, in the dentate gyrus of NSW mice. Electrophysiological studies confirmed enhanced sensitivity to AP potentiation of GABA-gated currents in DGGCs, but not in CA1 pyramidal cells, in NSW animals. AP produced a greater potentiation of tonic currents in DGGCs of NSW animals, and such enhanced AP sensitivity was not evident in δ-subunit knock-out mice subjected to a similar withdrawal paradigm. In behavioral studies, mice undergoing NSW exhibited enhanced seizure susceptibility to hippocampus kindling. AP has enhanced anticonvulsant effects in fully kindled wild-type mice, but not δ-subunit knock-out mice, undergoing NSW-induced seizures, confirming δ-linked neurosteroid sensitivity. These results indicate that perimenstrual NSW is associated with striking upregulation of extrasynaptic, δ-containing GABAA receptors that mediate tonic inhibition and neurosteroid sensitivity in the dentate gyrus. These findings may represent a molecular rationale for neurosteroid therapy of catamenial epilepsy.
PMCID: PMC4205546  PMID: 25339733
allopregnanolone; epilepsy; GABA receptor; neurosteroid; tonic inhibition; withdrawal
6.  Neurosteroids and GABA-A Receptor Function 
Neurosteroids represent a class of endogenous steroids that are synthesized in the brain, the adrenals, and the gonads and have potent and selective effects on the GABAA-receptor. 3α-hydroxy A-ring reduced metabolites of progesterone, deoxycorticosterone, and testosterone are positive modulators of GABAA-receptor in a non-genomic manner. Allopregnanolone (3α-OH-5α-pregnan-20-one), 5α-androstane-3α, 17α-diol (Adiol), and 3α5α-tetrahydrodeoxycorticosterone (3α5α-THDOC) enhance the GABA-mediated Cl- currents acting on a site (or sites) distinct from the GABA, benzodiazepine, barbiturate, and picrotoxin binding sites. 3α5α-P and 3α5α-THDOC potentiate synaptic GABAA-receptor function and activate δ-subunit containing extrasynaptic receptors that mediate tonic currents. On the contrary, 3β-OH pregnane steroids and pregnenolone sulfate (PS) are GABAA-receptor antagonists and induce activation-dependent inhibition of the receptor. The activities of neurosteroid are dependent on brain regions and types of neurons. In addition to the slow genomic action of the parent steroids, the non-genomic, and rapid actions of neurosteroids play a significant role in the GABAA-receptor function and shift in mood and memory function. This review describes molecular mechanisms underlying neurosteroid action on the GABAA-receptor, mood changes, and cognitive functions.
PMCID: PMC3356040  PMID: 22654809
allopregnanolone; THDOC; pregnenolone sulfate; GABAA-receptor; premenstrual dysphoric disorder; mood; cognition
7.  Mass Spectrometric Assay and Physiological-Pharmacological Activity of Androgenic Neurosteroids 
Neurochemistry international  2007;52(4-5):541-553.
Steroid hormones play a key role in the pathophysiology of several brain disorders. Testosterone modulates neuronal excitability, but the underlying mechanisms are obscure. There is emerging evidence that testosterone-derived “androgenic neurosteroids”, 3α-androstanediol and 17β-estradiol, mediate the testosterone effects on neural excitability and seizure susceptibility. Testosterone undergoes metabolism to neurosteroids via two distinct pathways. Aromatization of the A-ring converts testosterone into 17β-estradiol. Reduction of testosterone by 5α-reductase generates 5α-dihydrotestosterone, which is then converted to 3α-androstanediol, a powerful GABAA receptor-modulating neurosteroid with anticonvulsant properties. Although the 3α-androstanediol is an emerging neurosteroid in the brain, there is no specific and sensitive assay for determination of 3α-androstanediol in biological samples. This article describes the development and validation of mass spectrometric assay of 3α-androstanediol, and the molecular mechanisms underlying the testosterone modulation of seizure susceptibility. A liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry assay to measure 3α-androstanediol is validated with excellent linearity, specificity, sensitivity, and reproducibility. Testosterone modulation of seizure susceptibility is demonstrated to occur through its conversion to neurosteroids with “anticonvulsant” and “proconvulsant” actions and hence the net effect of testosterone on neural excitability and seizure activity depends on the levels of distinct testosterone metabolites. The proconvulsant effect of testosterone is associated with increases in plasma 17β-estradiol concentrations. The 5α-reduced metabolites of testosterone, 5α-dihydrotestosterone and 3α-androstanediol, had powerful anticonvulsant activity. Overall, the testosterone-derived neurosteroids 3α-androstanediol and 17β-estradiol could contribute to the net cellular actions of testosterone in the brain. Because 3α-androstanediol is a potent positive allosteric modulator of GABAA receptors, it could serve as an endogenous neuromodulator of neuronal excitability in men. The 3α-androstanediol assay is an important tool in this area because of the growing interest in the potential to use adjuvant aromatase inhibitor therapy to improve treatment of epilepsy.
PMCID: PMC2390862  PMID: 17624627
Neurosteroid; testosterone; epilepsy; 3α-androstanediol; 17β-estradiol; GABAA receptor; hippocampus; seizure susceptibility; mass spectrometry
8.  Neurosteroids as endogenous regulators of seizure susceptibility and use in the treatment of epilepsy 
Epilepsia  2010;51(Suppl 5):84.
Neurosteroids such as allopregnanolone are positive allosteric modulators of GABAA receptors with powerful antiseizure activity in diverse animal models. Neurosteroids may be endogenous regulators of seizure susceptibility, for example, in catamenial epilepsy. Clinical trials with the synthetic neurosteroid analog ganaxolone in the treatment of refractory partial seizures and infantile spasms have been encouraging. Neurosteroids and analogs such as ganaxolone show promise in the treatment of diverse forms of epilepsy. For an expanded treatment of this topic see Jasper’s basic mechanisms of the epilepsies, 4th ed. (Noebels JL, Avoli M, Rogawski MA, Olsen RW, Delgado-Escueta AV, eds) published by Oxford University Press (available on the National Library of Medicine Bookshelf [NCBI] at
PMCID: PMC4137784  PMID: 25147407
Allopregnanolone; clinical trials; GABAA receptor; Ganaxolone; Infantile spasms; Partial seizures
9.  Neurosteroids, stress and depression: Potential therapeutic opportunities 
Neurosteroids are potent and effective neuromodulators that are synthesized from cholesterol in the brain. These agents and their synthetic derivatives influence the function of multiple signaling pathways including receptors for γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate, the major inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitters in the central nervous system (CNS). Increasing evidence indicates that dysregulation of neurosteroid production plays a role in the pathophysiology of stress and stress-related psychiatric disorders, including mood and anxiety disorders. In this paper, we review the mechanisms of neurosteroid action in brain with an emphasis on those neurosteroids that potently modulate the function of GABAA receptors. We then discuss evidence indicating a role for GABA and neurosteroids in stress and depression, and focus on potential strategies that can be used to manipulate CNS neurosteroid synthesis and function for therapeutic purposes.
PMCID: PMC3591791  PMID: 23085210
Neurosteroids; Neuroactive steroids; Allopregnanolone; Stress; Depression; Anxiety; Hippocampus
10.  Neurosteroids and Self-Reported Pain in Veterans Who Served in the U.S. Military After September 11, 2001 
Pain medicine (Malden, Mass.)  2010;11(10):1469-1476.
Nearly half of Operation Enduring Freedom / Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) veterans experience continued pain post-deployment. Several investigations report analgesic effects of allopregnanolone and other neurosteroids in animal models, but few data are currently available focusing on neurosteroids in clinical populations. Allopregnanolone positively modulates GABAA receptors and demonstrates pronounced analgesic and anxiolytic effects in rodents, yet studies examining the relationship between pain and allopregnanolone in humans are limited. We thus hypothesized that endogenous allopregnanolone and other neurosteroid levels may be negatively correlated with self-reported pain symptoms in humans.
We determined serum neurosteroid levels by gas chromatography / mass spectrometry (allopregnanolone, pregnenolone) or radioimmunoassay (dehydroepiandrosterone [DHEA], progesterone, DHEA sulfate [DHEAS]) in 90 male veterans who served in the U.S. military after September 11, 2001. Self-reported pain symptoms were assessed in four areas (low back pain, chest pain, muscle soreness, headache). Stepwise linear regression analyses were conducted to investigate the relationship between pain assessments and neurosteroids, with the inclusion of smoking, alcohol use, age, and history of traumatic brain injury as covariates.
Durham VA Medical Center.
Allopregnanolone levels were inversely associated with low back pain (p=0.044) and chest pain (p=0.013), and DHEA levels were inversely associated with muscle soreness (p=0.024). DHEAS levels were positively associated with chest pain (p=0.001). Additionally, there was a positive association between traumatic brain injury and muscle soreness (p=0.002).
Neurosteroids may be relevant to the pathophysiology of self-reported pain symptoms in this veteran cohort, and could represent future pharmacological targets for pain disorders.
PMCID: PMC2994993  PMID: 20735755
neuroactive steroid; allopregnanolone; pregnenolone; DHEA; nociception; pain; neurosteroid
11.  Allopregnanolone Elevations Following Pregnenolone Administration are Associated with Enhanced Activation of Emotion Regulation Neurocircuits 
Biological psychiatry  2013;73(11):1045-1053.
The neurosteroid allopregnanolone is a potent allosteric modulator of the GABA(A) receptor with anxiolytic properties. Exogenous administration of allopregnanolone reduces anxiety, and allopregnanolone blockade impairs social and affective functioning. However, the neural mechanism whereby allopregnanolone improves mood and reduces anxiety is unknown. In particular, brain imaging has not been used to link neurosteroid effects to emotion regulation neurocircuitry.
To investigate the brain basis of allopregnanolone’s impact on emotion regulation, participants were administered 400mg of pregnenolone (N=16) or placebo (N=15) and underwent 3T fMRI while performing the Shifted-Attention Emotion Appraisal Task (SEAT), which probes emotional processing and regulation.
Compared to placebo, allopregnanolone was associated with reduced activity in the amygdala and insula across all conditions. During the appraisal condition, allopregnanolone increased activity in the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex and enhanced connectivity between the amygdala and dorsal medial prefrontal cortex, an effect that was associated with reduced self-reported anxiety.
These results demonstrate that in response to emotional stimuli, allopregnanolone reduces activity in regions associated with generation of negative emotion. Furthermore, allopregnanolone may enhance activity in regions linked to regulatory processes. Aberrant activity in these regions has been linked to anxiety psychopathology. These results thus provide initial neuroimaging evidence that allopregnanolone may be a target for pharmacological intervention in the treatment of anxiety disorders, and suggest potential future directions for research into neurosteroid effects on emotion regulation neurocircuitry.
PMCID: PMC3648625  PMID: 23348009
Allopregnanolone; neuroactive steroid; fMRI; pharmaco-fMRI; emotion regulation; anxiety; pregnenolone
12.  Endogenous and synthetic neurosteroids in treatment of Niemann Pick Type C Disease 
Brain research reviews  2007;57(2):410-420.
The functions for neurosteroids during development and in response to nervous system injury are beginning to be identified. We focused on a mouse model in which we believed neurosteroid production would be altered, and which had a neurodegenerative phenotype. Niemann Pick Type-C (NP-C) is an autosomal recessive neurodegenerative disease caused by mutations in NPC1 (95%) or NPC2 (5%), resulting in lysosomal accumulation of unesterified cholesterol and glycolipids. The NIH mouse model of NP-C has a mutation in the NPC1 gene, and exhibits several pathological features of the most severe NP-C patients. How lysosomal storage and trafficking defects lead to neurodegeneration is unknown. We found that these mice had normal neurosteroidogenic enzyme activity during development, but lost this activity in the early neonatal period, prior to onset of neurological symptoms. Neurons that expressed P450scc, 3ß HSD, as well as those that expressed 3α HSD and 5α reductase were lost in adult NP-C brains, resulting in diminished concentrations of allopregnanolone. We treated NP-C mice with allopregnanolone and found that a single dose in the neonatal period resulted in a doubling of lifespan, substantial delay in onset of neurological symptoms, survival of cerebellar Purkinje and granule cell neurons, and reduction in cholesterol and ganglioside accumulation. The mechanism by which allopregnanolone elicited these effects is unknown. Our in vitro studies showed that Purkinje cell survival promoted by allopregnanolone was lost by treatment with bicuculline, suggesting GABAA receptors may play a role. We treated NP-C mice with a synthetic GABAA neurosteroid, ganaxolone (3α-hydroxy-3β-methyl-5α -pregnan-20-one). Ganaxolone treatment of NP-C mice produced beneficial neurological effects, but these effects were not as robust as those obtained using allopregnanolone. Thus, allopregnanolone may elicit its effects through GABAA receptors and through other mechanisms. Additional studies also suggest that allopregnanolone may elicit its effects through pregnane-X receptors (PXR). Our data suggest that mouse models of neurodegeneration may be beneficial in establishing both physiologic and pharmacologic actions of neurosteroids. These animal models further establish the wide range of functions of these compounds, which may ultimately be useful for treatment of human diseases.
PMCID: PMC2323675  PMID: 17629950
allopregnanolone; Niemann Pick Type C; GABAA receptor; pregnane-X-receptor
13.  Pregnenolone and ganaxolone reduce operant ethanol self-administration in alcohol-preferring P rats 
Neuroactive steroids modulate ethanol intake in several self-administration models with variable effects. The purpose of this work was to examine the effects of the long-acting synthetic GABAergic neurosteroid ganaxalone and the endogenous neurosteroid pregnenolone, a precursor of all GABAergic neuroactive steroids, on the maintenance of ethanol self-administration in an animal model of elevated drinking – the alcohol preferring (P) rats.
P rats were trained to self-administer ethanol (15% v/v) vs. water on a concurrent schedule of reinforcement, and the effects of ganaxolone (0 – 30 mg/kg, SC) and pregnenolone (0 – 75 mg/kg, IP) were evaluated on the maintenance of ethanol self-administration. After completion of self-administration testing, doses of the neuroactive steroids that altered ethanol self-administration were assessed on spontaneous locomotor activity. Finally, the effect of pregnenolone administration on cerebral cortical levels of the GABAergic neuroactive steroid (3α,5α)-3-hydroxypregnan-20-one (allopregnanolone, 3α,5α-THP) was determined in both ethanol experienced and inexperienced P rats since pregnenolone is a precursor of these steroids.
Ganaxolone produced a dose-dependent biphasic effect on ethanol reinforcement, as the lowest dose (1 mg/kg) increased and the highest dose (30 mg/kg) decreased ethanol-reinforced responding. However, the highest ganaxolone dose also produced a nonspecific reduction in locomotor activity. Pregnenolone treatment significantly reduced ethanol self-administration (50 and 75 mg/kg), without altering locomotor activity. Pregnenolone (50 mg/kg) produced a significant increase in cerebral cortical allopregnanolone levels. This increase was observed in the self-administration trained animals, but not in ethanol naïve P rats.
These results indicate that pregnenolone dose-dependently reduces operant ethanol self-administration in P rats without locomotor impairment, suggesting it may have potential as a novel therapeutic for reducing chronic alcohol drinking in individuals that abuse alcohol.
PMCID: PMC2988984  PMID: 20946297
ethanol self-administration; GABA; neuroactive steroids; ganaxolone; pregnenolone
14.  Neurosteroids Are Endogenous Neuroprotectants in an Ex Vivo Glaucoma Model 
Allopregnanolone is a neurosteroid and powerful modulator of neuronal excitability. The neuroprotective effects of allopregnanolone involve potentiation of γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) inhibitory responses. Although glutamate excitotoxicity contributes to ganglion cell death in glaucoma, the role of GABA in glaucoma remains uncertain. The aim of this study was to determine whether allopregnanolone synthesis is induced by high pressure in the retina and whether allopregnanolone modulates pressure-mediated toxicity.
Ex vivo rat retinas were exposed to hydrostatic pressure (10, 35, and 75 mm Hg) for 24 hours. Endogenous allopregnanolone production was determined by liquid chromatography and tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) and immunochemistry. We also examined the effects of allopregnanolone, finasteride, and dutasteride (inhibitors of 5α-reductase), picrotoxin (a GABAA receptor antagonist), and D-2-amino-5-phosphonovalerate (APV, a broad-spectrum N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor [NMDAR] antagonist).
Pressure loading at 75 mm Hg significantly increased allopregnanolone levels as measured by LC-MS/MS. Elevated hydrostatic pressure also increased neurosteroid immunofluorescence, especially in the ganglion cell layer and inner nuclear layers. Staining was negligible at lower pressures. Enhanced allopregnanolone levels and immunostaining were substantially blocked by finasteride, but more effectively inhibited by dutasteride and APV. Administration of exogenous allopregnanolone suppressed pressure-induced axonal swelling in a concentration-dependent manner, while picrotoxin overcame these neuroprotective effects.
These results indicate that the synthesis of allopregnanolone is enhanced mainly via NMDARs in the pressure-loaded retina, and that allopregnanolone diminishes pressure-mediated retinal degeneration via GABAA receptors. Allopregnanolone and other related neurosteroids may serve as potential novel therapeutic targets for the prevention of pressure-induced retinal damage in glaucoma.
In ex vivo rat retinas exposed to hydrostatic pressure, we found that the synthesis of allopregnanolone is enhanced mainly via NMDA receptor activation, and that allopregnanolone diminishes pressure-mediated retinal degeneration via GABAA receptor activation.These observations suggest that neurosteroids such as allopregnanolone may serve as potential norvel therapeutic targets for the prevention of pressure-induced retinal damage in acute glaucoma.
PMCID: PMC4280088  PMID: 25406290
transporter–knockout; Neurosteroid; allopregnanolone; glaucoma; GABA; neuroprotection
15.  Neuroendocrine aspects of catamenial epilepsy 
Hormones and behavior  2012;63(2):254-266.
This review describes the neuroendocrinological aspects of catamenial epilepsy, a menstrual cycle-related seizure disorder in women with epilepsy. Catamenial epilepsy is a multifaceted neuroendocrine condition in which seizures are clustered around specific points in the menstrual cycle, most often around perimenstrual or periovulatory period. Three types of catamenial seizures (perimenstrual, periovulatory and inadequate luteal) have been identified. The molecular pathophysiology of catamenial epilepsy remains unclear. Cyclical changes in the circulating levels of estrogens and progesterone (P) play a central role in the development of catamenial epilepsy. Endogenous neurosteroids such as allopregnanolone (AP) and allotetrahydrodeoxycorticosterone (THDOC) that modulate seizure susceptibility could play a critical role in catamenial epilepsy. In addition, plasticity in GABA-A receptor subunits could play a role in the enhanced seizure susceptibility in catamenial epilepsy. P-derived neurosteroids such as AP and THDOC potentiate synaptic GABA-A receptor function and also activate extrasynaptic GABA-A receptors in the hippocampus and thus may represent endogenous regulators of catamenial seizure susceptibility. Experimental studies have shown that neurosteroids confer greater seizure protection in animal models of catamenial epilepsy, especially without evident tolerance to their actions during chronic therapy. In the recently completed NIH-sponsored, placebo controlled Phase 3 clinical trial, P therapy proved to be beneficial only in women with perimenstrual catamenial epilepsy but not in non-catamenial subjects. Neurosteroid analogs with favorable profile may be useful in the treatment of catamenial epilepsy.
PMCID: PMC3422425  PMID: 22579656
Allopregnanolone; estradiol; neurosteroids; progesterone; catamenial epilepsy; GABA-A receptor
16.  Role of hormones and neurosteroids in epileptogenesis 
This article describes the emerging evidence of hormonal influence on epileptogenesis, which is a process whereby a brain becomes progressively epileptic due to an initial precipitating event of diverse origin such as brain injury, stroke, infection, or prolonged seizures. The molecular mechanisms underlying the development of epilepsy are poorly understood. Neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration appear to trigger epileptogenesis. There is an intense search for drugs that truly prevent the development of epilepsy in people at risk. Hormones play an important role in children and adults with epilepsy. Corticosteroids, progesterone, estrogens, and neurosteroids have been shown to affect seizure activity in animal models and in clinical studies. However, the impact of hormones on epileptogenesis has not been investigated widely. There is emerging new evidence that progesterone, neurosteroids, and endogenous hormones may play a role in regulating the epileptogenesis. Corticosterone has excitatory effects and triggers epileptogenesis in animal models. Progesterone has disease-modifying activity in epileptogenic models. The antiepileptogenic effect of progesterone has been attributed to its conversion to neurosteroids, which binds to GABA-A receptors and enhances phasic and tonic inhibition in the brain. Neurosteroids are robust anticonvulsants. There is pilot evidence that neurosteroids may have antiepileptogenic properties. Future studies may generate new insight on the disease-modifying potential of hormonal agents and neurosteroids in epileptogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3728472  PMID: 23914154
epilepsy; epileptogenesis; neurosteroid; estrogen; progesterone; kindling
17.  Modulation of neurosteroid potentiation by protein kinases at synaptic- and extrasynaptic-type GABAA receptors 
Neuropharmacology  2015;88:63-73.
GABAA receptors are important for inhibition in the CNS where neurosteroids and protein kinases are potent endogenous modulators. Acting individually, these can either enhance or depress receptor function, dependent upon the type of neurosteroid or kinase and the receptor subunit combination. However, in vivo, these modulators probably act in concert to fine-tune GABAA receptor activity and thus inhibition, although how this is achieved remains unclear. Therefore, we investigated the relationship between these modulators at synaptic-type α1β3γ2L and extrasynaptic-type α4β3δ GABAA receptors using electrophysiology.
For α1β3γ2L, potentiation of GABA responses by tetrahydro-deoxycorticosterone was reduced after inhibiting protein kinase C, and enhanced following its activation, suggesting this kinase regulates neurosteroid modulation. In comparison, neurosteroid potentiation was reduced at α1β3S408A,S409Aγ2L receptors, and unaltered by PKC inhibitors or activators, indicating that phosphorylation of β3 subunits is important for regulating neurosteroid activity. To determine whether extrasynaptic-type GABAA receptors were similarly modulated, α4β3δ and α4β3S408A,S409Aδ receptors were investigated. Neurosteroid potentiation was reduced at both receptors by the kinase inhibitor staurosporine. By contrast, neurosteroid-mediated potentiation at α4S443Aβ3S408A,S409Aδ receptors was unaffected by protein kinase inhibition, strongly suggesting that phosphorylation of α4 and β3 subunits is required for regulating neurosteroid activity at extrasynaptic receptors. Western blot analyses revealed that neurosteroids increased phosphorylation of β3S408,S409 implying that a reciprocal pathway exists for neurosteroids to modulate phosphorylation of GABAA receptors.
Overall, these findings provide important insight into the regulation of GABAA receptors in vivo, and into the mechanisms by which GABAergic inhibitory transmission may be simultaneously tuned by two endogenous neuromodulators.
This article is part of the Special Issue entitled ‘GABAergic Signaling in Health and Disease’.
•Neurosteroid potentiation at GABAA receptors is modulated by protein kinase activity.•Synaptic-type α1β3γ2L receptor potentiation is up or down-regulated by PKC activity.•PKC-mediated modulation occurs via β3 subunit S408 & S409 phosphorylation.•Potentiation at extrasynaptic-type α4β3δ receptors is additionally regulated by α4S443.•Neurosteroids facilitate phosphorylation of GABAA receptors via βS408,S409.
PMCID: PMC4239298  PMID: 25278033
Neurosteroid; Protein kinase; Synaptic GABAA receptors; Extrasynaptic GABAA receptors; Phosphorylation; THDOC, tetrahydro-deoxycorticosterone; BIM-I, bisindolylmaleimide I; PMA, phorbol-12-myristate-13-acetate; THIP, 4,5,6,7-tetrahydroisothiazolo-[5,4-c]pyridine-3-ol
Neuroscience  2010;170(3):865-880.
Neurosteroids regulate GABA-A receptor plasticity. Neurosteroid withdrawal occurs during menstruation and is associated with a marked increase in expression of GABA-A receptor α4-subunit, a key subunit linked to enhanced neuronal excitability, seizure susceptibility and benzodiazepine resistance. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying the upregulation of α4-subunit expression remain unclear. Here we utilized the progesterone receptor (PR) knockout mouse to investigate molecular pathways of PR and the transcription factor early growth response factor-3 (Egr3) in regulation of the GABA-A receptor α4-subunit expression in the hippocampus in a mouse neurosteroid withdrawal paradigm. Neurosteroid withdrawal induced a threefold increase in α4-subunit expression in wild-type mice, but this upregulation was unchanged in PR knockout mice. The expression of Egr3, which controls α4-subunit transcription, was increased significantly following neurosteroid withdrawal in wild-type and PR knockout mice. Neurosteroid withdrawal-induced α4-subunit upregulation was completely suppressed by antisense Egr3 inhibition. In the hippocampus kindling model of epilepsy, there was heightened seizure activity, significant reduction in the antiseizure sensitivity of diazepam (a benzodiazepine insensitive at α4βγ-receptors) and conferral of increased seizure protection of flumazenil (a low-affinity agonist at α4βγ-receptors) in neurosteroid-withdrawn wild-type and PR knockout mice. These observations are consistent with enhanced α4-containing receptor abundance in vivo. Neurosteroid withdrawal-induced seizure exacerbation, diazepam insensitivity, and flumazenil efficacy in the kindling model were reversed by inhibition of Egr3. These results indicate that neurosteroid withdrawal-induced upregulation of GABA-A receptor α4-subunit expression is mediated by the Egr3 via a PR-independent signaling pathway. These findings help advance our understanding of the molecular basis of catamenial epilepsy, a neuroendocrine condition that occurs around the perimenstrual period and is characterized by neurosteroid withdrawal-linked seizure exacerbations in women with epilepsy.
PMCID: PMC2939139  PMID: 20670676
Allopregnanolone; diazepam; Egr3; GABA-A receptor; kindling; neurosteroid withdrawal; progesterone; progesterone receptor; α4-subunit; seizure
19.  Ammonia Inhibits Long-term Potentiation via Neurosteroid Synthesis in Hippocampal Pyramidal Neurons 
Neuroscience  2012;233:166-173.
Neurosteroids are a class of endogenous steroids synthesized in the brain that are believed to be involved in the pathogenesis of neuropsychiatric disorders and memory impairment. Ammonia impairs long-term potentiation (LTP), a synaptic model of learning, in the hippocampus, a brain region involved in memory acquisition. Although mechanisms underlying ammonia-mediated LTP inhibition are not fully understood, we previously found that activation of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors (NMDARs) is important. Based on this, we hypothesize that metabolic stressors, including hyperammonemia, promote untimely NMDAR activation and result in neural adaptations that include the synthesis of allopregnanolone (alloP) and other γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-potentiating neurosteroids that dampen neuronal activity and impair LTP and memory formation. Using an antibody against 5α-reduced neurosteroids, we found that 100 μM ammonia acutely enhanced neurosteroid immunostaining in pyramidal neurons in the CA1 region of rat hippocampal slices. The enhanced staining was blocked by finasteride, a selective inhibitor of 5α-reductase, a key enzyme required for alloP synthesis. Finasteride also overcame LTP inhibition by 100 μM ammonia, as did picrotoxin, an inhibitor of GABA-A receptors. These results indicate that GABA enhancing neurosteroids, synthesized locally within pyramidal neurons, contribute significantly to ammonia-mediated synaptic dysfunction. These results suggest that manipulation of neurosteroid synthesis could provide a strategy to improve cognitive function in individuals with hyperammonemia.
PMCID: PMC3578010  PMID: 23276672
Hepatic encephalopathy; GABA receptors; finasteride; allopregnanolone; tetrahydrodeoxycorticosterone; ammonia; LTP; neurosteroid
20.  Multiple roles for the first transmembrane domain of GABAA receptor subunits in neurosteroid modulation and spontaneous channel activity 
Neuroscience letters  2010;473(3):242-247.
Neurosteroids exert potent physiological effects by allosterically modulating synaptic and extrasynaptic GABAA receptors. Some endogenous neurosteroids, such as 3α, 21-dihydroxy-5β-pregnan-20-one (5α, 3α-THDOC), potentiate GABAA receptor function by interacting with a binding pocket defined by conserved residues in the first and fourth transmembrane (TM) domains of α subunits. Others, such as pregnenolone sulfate (PS), inhibit GABAA receptor function through as-yet unidentified binding sites. Here we investigate the mechanisms of PS inhibition of mammalian GABAA receptors, based on studies of PS inhibition of the UNC-49 GABA receptor, a GABAA-like receptor from Caenorhabditis elegans. In UNC-49, a 19 residue segment of TM1 can be mutated to increase or decrease PS sensitivity over a 20-fold range. Surprisingly, substituting these UNC-49 sequences into mammalian α1, β2, and γ2 subunits did not produce the corresponding effects on PS sensitivity of the resulting chimeric receptors. Therefore, it is unlikely that a conserved PS binding pocket is formed at this site. However we observed several interesting unexpected effects. First, chimeric γ2 subunits caused increased efficacy of 5α, 3α-THDOC potentiation; second, spontaneous gating of α6β2δ receptors was blocked by PS, and reduced by chimeric β2 subunits; and third, direct activation of α6β2δ receptors by 5α, 3α-THDOC was reduced by chimeric β2 subunits. These results reveal novel roles for non-α subunits in neurosteroid modulation and direct activation, and show that the β subunit TM1 domain is important for spontaneous activity of extrasynaptic GABAA receptors.
PMCID: PMC2927215  PMID: 20193738
GABAA receptor; neurosteroid; PS; THDOC; direct activation; spontaneous opening
21.  Antagonism of neurosteroid modulation of native γ-aminobutyric acid receptors by (3α,5α)-17-phenylandrost-16-en-3-ol 
European journal of pharmacology  2007;572(2-3):94-101.
Endogenous pregnane neurosteroids are allosteric modulators at γ-aminobutyric acid type-A (GABAA) receptors at nanomolar concentrations. There is direct evidence for multiple distinct neurosteroid binding sites on GABAA receptors, dependent upon subunit composition and stoichiometry. This view is supported by the biphasic kinetics of various neuroactive steroids, enantioselectivity of some neurosteroids, selective mutation studies of recombinantly expressed receptors and the selectivity of the neurosteroid antagonist (3α,5α)-17-phenylandrost-16-en-3-ol (17PA) on 5α-pregnane steroid effects on recombinant GABAA receptors expressed in Xenopus oocytes and native receptors in dissociated neurons. However, it is unclear whether this antagonist action is present in a mature mammalian system. The present study evaluated the antagonist activity of 17PA on neurosteroid agonists both in vivo and in vitro by examining the effects of 17PA on 5α-pregnane-induced sedation in rats, native mature GABAA receptor ion channels utilizing the chloride flux assay and further studies in recombinant α1β2γ2 receptors. The data show that 17PA preferentially inhibits 3α,5α-THP vs. alphaxalone in vivo, preferentially inhibits 3α,5α-THDOC vs. alphaxalone potentiation of GABA-mediated Cl- uptake in adult cerebral cortical synaptoneurosomes, but shows no specificity for 3α,5α-THDOC vs. alphaxalone in recombinant α1β2γ2 receptors. These data provide further evidence of the specificity of 17PA and the heterogeneity of neurosteroid recognition sites on GABAA receptors in the CNS.
PMCID: PMC2098702  PMID: 17658511
neuroactive steroids; native GABA receptors; recombinant α1β2γ2 receptors; sedation
22.  Finasteride Inhibits the Disease-Modifying Activity of Progesterone in the Hippocampus Kindling Model of Epileptogenesis 
Epilepsy & behavior : E&B  2012;25(1):92-97.
Progesterone (P) plays an important role in seizure susceptibility in women with epilepsy. Preclinical and experimental studies suggest that P appears to interrupt epileptogenesis, which is a process whereby a normal brain becomes progressively epileptic due to precipitating risk factors. P has not been investigated widely for its potential disease-modifying activity in epileptogenic models. Recently, P has been shown to exert disease-modifying effects in the kindling model of epileptogenesis. However, the mechanisms underlying the protective effects of P against epileptogenesis remain unclear. In this study, we investigated the role of P-derived neurosteroids in the disease-modifying activity of P. It is hypothesized that 5α-reductase converts P to allopregnanolone and related neurosteroids that retard epileptogenesis in the brain. To test this hypothesis, we utilized the mouse hippocampus kindling model of epileptogenesis and investigated the effect of finasteride, a 5α-reductase and neurosteroid synthesis inhibitor. P markedly retarded the development of epileptogenesis and inhibited the rate of kindling acquisition to elicit stage 5 seizures. Pretreatment with finasteride led to complete inhibition of the P-induced retardation of limbic epileptogenesis in mice. Finasteride did not significantly influence the acute seizure expression in fully-kindled mice expressing stage 5 seizures. Thus, neurosteroids that potentiate phasic and tonic inhibition in the hippocampus, such as allopregnanolone, may mediate the disease-modifying effect of P, indicating a new role of neurosteroids in acquired limbic epileptogenesis and temporal lobe epilepsy.
PMCID: PMC3444667  PMID: 22835430
Progesterone; epileptogenesis; kindling; neurosteroid; finasteride; seizure
23.  Steroid Hormone Fluctuations and GABAAR Plasticity 
Psychoneuroendocrinology  2009;34(Suppl 1):S84-S90.
Conditions of changing steroid hormone levels are a particularly vulnerable time or the manifestation of neurological disorders, including catamenial epilepsy, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and postpartum depression. The pathophysiology of these disorders may be related to changes in neurosteroid levels, which can dramatically impact neuronal excitability. Robust changes in neurosteroid levels, such as those that occur following stress, over the ovarian cycle, and throughout pregnancy, profoundly alter GABAA receptor (GABAAR) structure and function and underlie the associated changes in neuronal excitability. A moderate and brief exposure to elevated neurosteroids, such as those that occur over the ovarian cycle and following an acute stressful episode, result in a decrease in GABAAR γ2 subunit expression and an increase in GABAAR δ subunit expression. These changes are accompanied by a decrease in seizure susceptibility and decreased anxiety-like behavior in mice, demonstrating altered neuronal excitability associated with changes in the receptor composition. More robust changes in steroid hormone levels, such as those that occur throughout pregnancy, result in a decrease in both GABAAR γ2 and δ subunit expression and are associated with an increase in neuronal excitability evident from the shift in the input-output relationship. Alterations in GABAAR subunit composition may represent a homeostatic mechanism to maintain an ideal level of inhibition in the face of fluctuating neurosteroid levels. Neurosteroids potentiate the effects of GABA on GABAARs, particularly those containing the δ subunit, and reorganization of these receptors may be necessary to prevent sedation and/or anaesthesia in the face of high levels of neurosteroids or to prevent hyperexcitability in the absence of these compounds. Alterations in GABAARs under conditions of altered steroid hormone levels result in measurable changes in neuronal excitability and dysregulation of GABAARs may play a role in steroid hormone-associated neurological disorders.
PMCID: PMC3399241  PMID: 19632051
24.  In a mouse model relevant for PTSD, selective brain steroidogenic stimulants (SBSSs) improve behavioral deficits by normalizing allopregnanolone biosynthesis 
Behavioural pharmacology  2010;21(5-6):438-450.
The pathophysiological role of the neurosteroid 3α-hydroxy-5α-pregnan-20-one (allopregnanolone) in neuropsychiatric disorders has been highlighted in several recent investigations. For instance, allopregnanolone levels are decreased in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of patients with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major unipolar depression. Neurosteroidogenic antidepressants, including fluoxetine and analogs, correct this decrease in a manner that correlates with improved depressive symptoms.
PTSD-like behavioral dysfunctions, including heightened aggression, exaggerated fear, and anxiety-like behavior associated with a decrease in corticolimbic allopregnanolone content are modeled in mice by protracted social isolation stress. Allopregnanolone is not only synthesized by principal glutamatergic and GABAergic neurons but also locally, potently, positively, and allosterically modulates GABA action at post- and extra-synaptic GABAA receptors. Hence, this paper will review preclinical studies which show that in socially-isolated mice, rather than SSRI mechanisms, allopregnanolone biosynthesis in glutamatergic corticolimbic neurons offers a non-traditional target for fluoxetine to decrease signs of aggression, normalize fear responses, and decrease anxiety-like behavior. At low SSRI-inactive doses, fluoxetine and related congeners potently increase allopregnanolone levels by acting as potent selective brain steroidogenic stimulants (SBSSs), thereby facilitating GABAA receptor neurotransmission and improving behavioral dysfunctions.
Although the precise molecular mechanisms that underlie the action of these drugs are not fully understood, findings from socially-isolated mice may ultimately generate insights into novel drug targets for the treatment of psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety and panic disorders, depression, and PTSD.
PMCID: PMC2942072  PMID: 20716970
Allopregnanolone; 5α-reductase type I; selective brain steroidogenic stimulants (SBSSs); aggressive behavior; GABAA receptors; social isolation; anxiety; PTSD; mouse
25.  Synthetic neurosteroids on brain protection 
Neural Regeneration Research  2015;10(1):17-21.
Neurosteroids, like allopregnanolone and pregnanolone, are endogenous regulators of neuronal excitability. Inside the brain, they are highly selective and potent modulators of GABAA receptor activity. Their anticonvulsant, anesthetics and anxiolytic properties are useful for the treatments of several neurological and psychiatric disorders via reducing the risks of side effects obtained with the commercial drugs. The principal disadvantages of endogenous neurosteroids administration are their rapid metabolism and their low oral bioavailability. Synthetic steroids analogues with major stability or endogenous neurosteroids stimulation synthesis might constitute promising novel strategies for the treatment of several disorders. Numerous studies indicate that the 3α-hydroxyl configuration is the key for binding and activity, but modifications in the steroid nucleus may emphasize different pharmacophores. So far, several synthetic steroids have been developed with successful neurosteroid-like effects. In this work, we summarize the properties of various synthetic steroids probed in trials throughout the analysis of several neurosteroids-like actions.
PMCID: PMC4357103  PMID: 25788907
allopregnanolone; synthetic steroids; GABAA receptor; neuroprotection; cerebral cortex; hippocampus

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