There is increasing clinical and experimental evidence that hormones, in particular sex steroid hormones, influence neuronal excitability and other brain functions. The term 'neuroactive steroids' has been coined for steroids that interact with neurotransmitter receptors. One of the best characterized actions of neuroactive steroids is the allosteric modulation of GABA(A)-receptor function via binding to a putative steroid-binding site. Since neuroactive steroids may interact with a variety of other membrane receptors, excitatory as well as inhibitory, they may have an impact on the excitability of specific brain regions. Neuronal excitability is enhanced by estrogen, whereas progesterone and its metabolites exert anticonvulsant effects. Testosterone and corticosteroids have less consistent effects on seizure susceptibility. Apart from these particular properties, neuroactive steroids may regulate gene expression via progesterone receptors. Based on their molecular properties, these compounds appear to have a promising therapeutical profile for the treatment of different neuropsychiatric diseases including epilepsy. This review focuses on the effects of neuroactive steroids on neuronal excitability and their putative impact on the physiology of epileptic disorders.