New evidence that both T-type calcium channels and GABAA channels are responsible for the potent peripheral analgesic effects of 5alpha-reduced neuroactive steroids

Pain. 2005 Apr;114(3):429-443. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2005.01.009.


Neurosteroids are potent blockers of neuronal low-voltage activated (T-type) Ca(2+) channels and potentiators of GABA(A) ligand-gated channels, but their effects in peripheral pain pathways have not been studied previously. To investigate potential analgesic effects and the ion channels involved, we tested the ability of locally injected 5alpha-reduced neurosteroids to modulate peripheral thermal nociception to radiant heat in adult rats in vivo and to modulate GABA(A) and T-type Ca(2+) channels in vitro. The steroid anesthetic alphaxalone (ALPX), the endogenous neurosteroid allopregnanolone (3alpha5alphaP), and a related compound ((3alpha,5alpha,17beta)-3-hydroxyandrostane-17-carbonitrile, (ACN)), induced potent, dose-dependent, enantioselective anti-nociception in vivo and modulation of both T-type Ca(2+) currents and GABA(A)-mediated currents in vitro. Analgesic effects of ALPX were incompletely antagonized by co-injections of the GABA(A) receptor antagonist bicuculline. The neurosteroid analogue ((3alpha,5alpha)-3-hydroxy-13,24-cyclo-18,21-dinorchol-22-en-24-ol (CDNC24), a compound with GABAergic but not T-type activity, was not analgesic. However, (3beta,5alpha,17beta)-17-hydroxyestrane-3-carbonitrile (ECN)), which has effects on T-type channels but not on GABA(A) receptors, also induced potent enantioselective peripheral anti-nociception. ECN increased pain thresholds less than ALPX, 3alpha5alphaP and ACN. However, when an ineffective dose of CDNC24 was combined with ECN, anti-nociceptive activity was greatly enhanced, and this effect was bicuculline-sensitive. These results strongly suggest that GABA(A) channels do not contribute to baseline pain transmission, but they can enhance anti-nociception mediated by blockade of T-type Ca(2+) channels. In conclusion, we demonstrate that potent peripheral analgesia induced by 5alpha-reduced neurosteroid is mediated in part by effects on T-type Ca(2+) channels. Our results also reveal a role of GABA-gated ion channels in peripheral nociceptive signaling.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anesthetics / chemistry
  • Anesthetics / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Calcium Channels, T-Type / physiology*
  • Estranes / chemistry
  • Estranes / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Ganglia, Spinal / cytology
  • Male
  • Membrane Potentials / drug effects
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Neurons, Afferent / drug effects
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology
  • Nitriles / chemistry
  • Nitriles / pharmacology
  • Nociceptors / drug effects*
  • Nociceptors / physiology*
  • Oocytes / physiology
  • Pregnanediones / chemistry
  • Pregnanediones / pharmacology
  • Pregnanolone / chemistry
  • Pregnanolone / pharmacology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, GABA-A / physiology*
  • Xenopus


  • Anesthetics
  • Calcium Channels, T-Type
  • Estranes
  • Nitriles
  • Pregnanediones
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • 3-hydroxy-5-estrane-17-carbonitrile
  • alphaxalone
  • Pregnanolone