Neuroactive steroids reduce neuronal excitability by selectively enhancing tonic inhibition mediated by delta subunit-containing GABAA receptors

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 Nov 25;100(24):14439-44. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2435457100. Epub 2003 Nov 17.


Neuroactive steroids are potent modulators of gamma-aminobutyric acid type A receptors (GABAARs), and their behavioral effects are generally viewed in terms of altered inhibitory synaptic transmission. Here we report that, at concentrations known to occur in vivo, neuroactive steroids specifically enhance a tonic inhibitory conductance in central neurons that is mediated by extrasynaptic delta subunit-containing GABAARs. The neurosteroid-induced augmentation of this tonic conductance decreases neuronal excitability. Fluctuations in the circulating concentrations of endogenous neuroactive steroids have been implicated in the genesis of premenstrual syndrome, postpartum depression, and other anxiety disorders. Recognition that delta subunit-containing GABAARs responsible for a tonic conductance are a preferential target for neuroactive steroids may lead to novel pharmacological approaches for the treatment of these common conditions.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cerebellum / drug effects
  • Cerebellum / physiology
  • Dentate Gyrus / drug effects
  • Dentate Gyrus / physiology
  • Desoxycorticosterone / analogs & derivatives*
  • Desoxycorticosterone / pharmacology
  • Electrophysiology
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / drug effects
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Receptors, GABA-A / drug effects*
  • Receptors, GABA-A / physiology*
  • Steroids / pharmacology*


  • GABRD protein, human
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Steroids
  • Desoxycorticosterone
  • tetrahydrodeoxycorticosterone