Progesterone withdrawal increases the alpha4 subunit of the GABA(A) receptor in male rats in association with anxiety and altered pharmacology - a comparison with female rats

Neuropharmacology. 2002 Sep;43(4):701-14. doi: 10.1016/s0028-3908(02)00171-5.


Withdrawal from the neurosteroid 3alpha,5alpha-allopregnanolone after chronic administration of progesterone increases anxiety in female rats and up-regulates the alpha4 subunit of the GABA(A) receptor (GABA(A)-R) in the hippocampus. We investigated if these phenomena would also occur in male rats. Progesterone withdrawal (PWD) induced higher alpha4 subunit expression in the hippocampus of both male and female rats, in association with increased anxiety (assessed in the elevated plus maze) comparable to effects previously reported. Because alpha4-containing GABA(A)-R are insensitive to the benzodiazepine (BDZ) lorazepam (LZM), and are positively modulated by flumazenil (FLU, a BDZ antagonist), we therefore tested the effects of these compounds following PWD. Using whole-cell patch clamp techniques, LZM-potentiation of GABA ((EC20))-gated current was markedly reduced in CA1 pyramidal cells of male rats undergoing PWD compared to controls, whereas FLU had no effect on GABA-gated current in control animals but increased it in PWD animals. Behaviorally, both male and female rats were significantly less sensitive to the anxiolytic effects of LZM. In contrast, FLU demonstrated significant anxiolytic effects following PWD. These data suggest that neurosteroid regulation of the alpha4 GABA(A)-R subunit may be a relevant mechanism underlying anxiety disorders, and that this phenomenon is not sex-specific.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Female
  • Flumazenil / pharmacology
  • GABA Modulators
  • Hippocampus / drug effects
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Lorazepam / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Progesterone / adverse effects*
  • Pyramidal Cells / drug effects
  • Rats
  • Receptors, GABA-A / drug effects*
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / metabolism*


  • GABA Modulators
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Flumazenil
  • Progesterone
  • Lorazepam