Neurosteroids: beginning of the story

Int Rev Neurobiol. 2001;46:1-32. doi: 10.1016/s0074-7742(01)46057-0.


Neurosteroids are synthetisized in the central and the peripheral nervous system, in glial cells, and also in neurons, from cholesterol or steroidal precursors imported from peripheral sources. They include 3 beta-hydroxy-delta 5-compounds, such as pregnenolone (PREG) and dehydroepiandrosterone, their sulfate esters, and compounds known as reduced metabolites of steroid hormones, such as the tetrahydroderivative of progesterone 3 alpha-hydroxy-5 alpha-pregnan-20-one. These neurosteroids can act as modulators of neurotransmitter receptors, such as GABAA, NMDA, and sigma 1 receptors. Progesterone itself is also a neurosteroid, and a progesterone receptor has been detected in peripheral and central glial cells. At different sites in the brain, neurosteroid concentrations vary according to environmental and behavioral circumstances, such as stress, sex recognition, or aggressiveness. A physiological function of neurosteroids in the central nervous system is strongly suggested by the role of hippocampal PREGS with respect to memory performance, observed in aging rats. In the peripheral nervous system, a role for PROG synthesized in Schwann cells has been demonstrated in remyelination after cryolesion of the sciatic nerve in vivo and in cultures of dorsal root ganglia. A new mechanism of PREG action discovered in the brain involves specific steroid binding to microtubule associated protein and increased tubulin polymerization for assembling microtubules. It may be important to study the effects of abnormal neurosteroid concentration/metabolism in view of the possible treatment of functional and trophic disturbances of the nervous system.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Nervous System Physiological Phenomena*
  • Pregnenolone / physiology*
  • Receptors, Steroid / physiology


  • Receptors, Steroid
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone
  • Pregnenolone