Withdrawal properties of a neuroactive steroid: implications for GABA(A) receptor gene regulation in the brain and anxiety behavior

Steroids. 2002 May;67(6):519-28. doi: 10.1016/s0039-128x(01)00170-2.


Early work in the field established that the 5 alpha-reduced metabolite of progesterone 3 alpha-OH-5 alpha-pregnan-20-one (allopregnanolone or 3 alpha,5 alpha-THP) is a potent positive modulator of the GABA(A) receptor (GABAR), the receptor mediating the effects of the primary inhibitory transmitter in the brain. This steroid acts in a manner similar to sedative drugs, such as the barbiturates, both in terms of potentiating GABA-induced inhibition in vitro and in behavioral assays, by reducing anxiety and seizure susceptibility. Because sedative compounds exhibit withdrawal properties that result in behavioral hyperexcitability, our laboratory has more recently investigated the effect of prolonged application and rapid removal (i.e. 'withdrawal') of this steroid, administered in vivo to female rats. Withdrawal from 3 alpha,5 alpha-THP produces a state of increased anxiety and lowered seizure threshold, similar to withdrawal from other GABA-modulatory drugs such as the benzodiazepines and alcohol. Hormone withdrawal also produced increases in the alpha 4-containing GABAR, an effect correlated with insensitivity of the GABAR to modulation by the benzodiazepine class of tranquilizers, as would normally occur under control conditions. In addition, changes in intrinsic channel properties, including a marked acceleration in the decay rate was also observed as a result of declining levels of 3 alpha,5 alpha-THP. Such a change would result in less inhibitory total current, and the resulting increase in neuronal excitability could then underlie the observed behavioral excitability following hormone withdrawal. These results suggest that actions of this steroid on a traditional transmitter receptor in the brain lead to alterations in GABAR subunit composition that result in changes in the intrinsic channel properties of the receptor and behavioral excitability. These results may have implications for endogenous fluctuations in this hormone which may accompany premenstrual dysphoric disorder.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety / chemically induced*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects*
  • Pregnanolone / adverse effects*
  • Rats
  • Receptors, GABA-A / genetics
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism*
  • Seizures / chemically induced
  • Steroids / adverse effects
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology
  • Time


  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Steroids
  • Pregnanolone