Mechanisms of anabolic androgenic steroid inhibition of mammalian epsilon-subunit-containing GABAA receptors

J Physiol. 2006 Jun 15;573(Pt 3):571-93. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2006.106534. Epub 2006 Mar 16.


GABAergic transmission regulates the activity of gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons in the preoptic area/hypothalamus that control the onset of puberty and the expression of reproductive behaviours. One of the hallmarks of illicit use of anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS) is disruption of behaviours under neuroendocrine control. GnRH neurons are among a limited population of cells that express high levels of the epsilon-subunit of the GABAA receptor. To better understand the actions of AAS on neuroendocrine mechanisms, we have characterized modulation of GABAA receptor-mediated currents in mouse native GnRH neurons and in heterologous cells expressing recombinant alpha2beta3epsilon-receptors. GnRH neurons exhibited robust currents in response to millimolar concentrations of GABA and a picrotoxin (PTX)-sensitive, bicuculline-insensitive current that probably arises from spontaneous openings of GABAA receptors. The AAS 17alpha-methyltestosterone (17alpha-MeT) inhibited spontaneous and GABA-evoked currents in GnRH neurons. For recombinant alpha2beta3epsilon-receptors, 17alpha-MeT inhibited phasic and tonic GABA-elicited responses, accelerated desensitization and slowed paired pulse response recovery. Single channel analysis indicated that GABA-evoked events could be described by three open dwell components and that 17alpha-MeT enhanced residence in the intermediate dwell state. This AAS also inhibited a PTX-sensitive, spontaneous current (open probability, approximately 0.15-0.2) in a concentration-dependent fashion (IC50 approximately 9 microm). Kinetic modelling indicated that the inhibition induced by 17alpha-MeT occurs by an allosteric block in which the AAS interacts preferentially with a closed state and promotes accumulation in that state. Finally, studies with a G302S mutant epsilon-subunit suggest that this residue within the transmembrane domain TM2 plays a role in mediating AAS binding and modulation. In sum, our results indicate that inclusion of the epsilon-subunit significantly alters the profile of AAS modulation and that this allosteric inhibition of native GnRH neurons should be considered with regard to AAS disruption of neuroendocrine control.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Allosteric Regulation
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Anabolic Agents / metabolism
  • Anabolic Agents / toxicity*
  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • GABA Antagonists / metabolism
  • GABA Antagonists / toxicity*
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone / genetics
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Ion Channel Gating
  • Ion Channels / drug effects
  • Kinetics
  • Methyltestosterone / metabolism
  • Methyltestosterone / toxicity*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutation
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Receptors, GABA-A / chemistry
  • Receptors, GABA-A / drug effects*
  • Receptors, GABA-A / genetics
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism
  • Transfection
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / pharmacology


  • Anabolic Agents
  • GABA Antagonists
  • GABRE protein, human
  • Gabre protein, mouse
  • Ion Channels
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Methyltestosterone