Anabolic androgenic steroids and forebrain GABAergic transmission

Neuroscience. 2006;138(3):793-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2005.08.039. Epub 2005 Nov 28.


Anabolic androgenic steroids are synthetic derivatives of testosterone designed for therapeutic purposes, but now taken predominantly as drugs of abuse. The most common behavioral effects associated with anabolic androgenic steroid use are changes in anxiety, aggression and reproductive behaviors, including the onset of puberty and sexual receptivity. GABAergic circuits in the forebrain underlie these behaviors and are regulated by gonadal steroids. Work from our laboratories has shown that the expression and function of GABA(A) receptors in the rat and mouse forebrain varies between the sexes and across the estrous cycle. We have also shown that there are significant changes in GABA(A) receptor expression that occur with the progression through puberty to adulthood. Because GABAergic systems are both steroid-sensitive and critical for the expression of behaviors altered with anabolic androgenic steroid use, forebrain GABA(A) receptors are an attractive candidate to assess how molecular actions of anabolic androgenic steroids may be translated to known behavioral outcomes. Our studies demonstrate that anabolic androgenic steroids elicit both acute modulation of GABA(A) receptor-mediated currents, as well as chronic regulation of GABA(A) receptor expression and forebrain GABAergic transmission. Because anabolic androgenic steroid use has now become prevalent not only among adolescent boys, but in an increasing number of adolescent girls, we have also been particularly interested in determining age- and sex-specific effects of anabolic androgenic steroids. Our data show that the effects of chronic anabolic androgenic steroid exposure can be greater for adolescent than adult animals and are more marked in females than in males. These data have particularly important implications with respect to studies we have done demonstrating that chronic anabolic androgenic steroid exposure alters the onset of puberty, estrous cyclicity and sexual receptivity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anabolic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Androgens / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prosencephalon / drug effects
  • Prosencephalon / physiology*
  • Receptors, GABA-A / drug effects
  • Receptors, GABA-A / genetics
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / physiology*


  • Anabolic Agents
  • Androgens
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid