Allopregnanolone (3alpha,5alpha-TH PROG) and 5alpha-dihydroprogesterone (5alpha-DH PROG), the two most important neuroactive steroids synthesized in the brain, potently modulate neuronal activity by allosterically regulating GABA action at GABA(A) receptors or by changing specific GABA(A) receptor subunit gene expression, respectively. We recently reported [Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 95 (1998) 3239] that in patients with severe depression there is a decrease in the CSF levels of 3alpha,5alpha-TH PROG, which is normalized by treatment with drugs (i.e. fluoxetine) that improve psychopathology. The mechanism by which fluoxetine and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors normalize 3alpha,5alpha-TH PROG CSF levels appears to involve a direct stimulation of 3alpha-hydroxysteroidoxidoreductase (3alpha-HSD), an enzyme that catalyses the reduction of 5alpha-DH PROG into 3alpha,5alpha-TH PROG. Here, we propose the use of socially-isolated mice that have a downregulation of 3alpha,5alpha-TH PROG and of 5alpha-DH PROG expression to establish a model to study the behavioral consequences of this deficiency. After 4-6 weeks of isolation, these mice exhibit increased anxiety and aggressive behavior and also a decreased response to the administration of GABA-mimetic drugs. In these mice, the decrease in 3alpha,5alpha-TH PROG is selectively normalized by the use of fluoxetine in doses that reduce behavioral abnormalities. In addition, the expression of 5alpha-reductase Type I mRNA and protein was lower in socially-isolated mice than that in group-housed mice whereas 3alpha-HSD mRNA expression remained unchanged. The results of these studies may enable us to design drugs that specifically affect neurosteroidogenic enzymatic activities and may provide an efficacious treatment for the psychopathologies associated with psychiatric disorders.