Neuroactive Neurosteroids as Endogenous Effectors for the sigma1 (sigma1) Receptor: Pharmacological Evidence and Therapeutic Opportunities

Jpn J Pharmacol. 1999 Oct;81(2):125-55. doi: 10.1254/jjp.81.125.


Neuroactive neurosteroids, including progesterone, allopregnanolone, pregnenolone and dehydroepiandrosterone, represent steroid hormones synthesized de novo in the brain and acting locally on nervous cells. Neurosteroids modulate several neurotransmitter systems such as gamma-aminobutyric acid type A (GABA(A)), N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) and acetylcholine receptors. As physiologic consequences, they are involved in neuronal plasticity, learning and memory processes, aggression and epilepsy, and they modulate the responses to stress, anxiety and depression. The sigma1-receptor protein was recently purified and its cDNA was cloned in several species. The amino-acid sequences are structurally unrelated to known mammalian proteins, but shared homology with a fungal sterol C8-C7 isomerase. The sigma1-receptor ligands exert a potent neuromodulation on excitatory neurotransmitter systems, including the glutamate and cholinergic systems. Consequently, selective sigma1 agonists show neuroprotective properties and beneficial effects in memory processes, stress and depression. The evidence of a direct interaction between neurosteroids and sigma1 receptors was first suggested by the ability of several steroids to inhibit the binding of sigma1-receptor radioligands in vitro and in vivo. A crossed pharmacology between neurosteroids and sigma1-receptor ligands was described in several physiological tests and behavioral responses. This review will detail the recent evidence for a common mechanism of action between neurosteroids and sigma1-receptor ligands and focus on the potential therapeutic interests of such interaction in the physiopathology of learning and memory impairments, stress, depression and neuroprotection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Nervous System / drug effects*
  • Nervous System Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Receptors, sigma / drug effects*
  • Steroids / pharmacology*
  • Steroids / therapeutic use


  • Receptors, sigma
  • Steroids