Neurosteroid modulation of synaptic and extrasynaptic GABA(A) receptors

Pharmacol Ther. 2007 Oct;116(1):20-34. doi: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2007.03.007. Epub 2007 Apr 21.


Certain naturally occurring pregnane steroids act in a nongenomic manner to potently and selectively enhance the interaction of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA with the GABA(A) receptor. Consequently such steroids exhibit anxiolytic, anticonvulsant, analgesic, sedative, hypnotic, and anesthetic properties. In both physiological and pathophysiological scenarios, the pregnane steroids may function as endocrine messengers (e.g., produced in the periphery and cross the blood-brain barrier) to influence behaviour. However, additionally "neurosteroids" can be synthesised in the brain and spinal cord to act in a paracrine or autocrine manner and thereby locally influence neuronal activity. Given the ubiquitous expression of the GABA(A) receptor throughout the mammalian central nervous system (CNS), physiological, pathophysiological, or drug-induced pertubations of neurosteroid levels may be expected to produce widespread changes in brain excitability. However, the neurosteroid/GABA(A) receptor interaction is brain region and indeed neuron specific. The molecular basis of this specificity will be reviewed here, including (1) the importance of the subunit composition of the GABA(A) receptor; (2) how protein phosphorylation may dynamically influence the sensitivity of GABA(A) receptors to neurosteroids; (3) the impact of local steroid metabolism; and (4) the emergence of extrasynaptic GABA(A) receptors as a neurosteroid target.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • GABA-A Receptor Antagonists
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Molecular Structure
  • Protein Binding
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter / metabolism*
  • Steroids / chemistry
  • Steroids / metabolism*
  • Steroids / pharmacology
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects


  • GABA-A Receptor Antagonists
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter
  • Steroids