Studies have shown that anabolic androgenic steroids (AASs) can induce profound changes to mental health. Commonly reported psychiatric side effects among AAS users include aggression, anxiety, depression, drug abuse and cognitive disabilities. In experimental animals, many of these effects have been associated with alterations in a number of neurotransmitter systems. We have observed that chronic administration of the AAS nandrolone (nandrolone decanoate) can affect excitatory amino acids as well as monoaminergic and peptidergic pathways in a way that is compatible with nandrolone-induced behavioural changes. The aim of the present work was to further explore the mechanisms underlying nandrolone-induced effects, with a particular focus on components known to be involved in aggression and cognitive function. Male rats were given daily injections of nandrolone decanoate for 14 days and the effects on neurosteroid interactions with sites on the N-methyl-D-aspartyl (NMDA) and sigma receptors were examined. These receptors were chosen because of their involvement in aggressive and cognitive behaviors and the hypothesis that nandrolone might affect the brain via interaction with neurosteroids. Radiolabelled [³H]ifenprodil was used in the binding studies because of its significant affinity for the NMDA and sigma receptors. The results indicated that [³H]ifenprodil binds to both sigma-1 and sigma-2 sites and can be displaced to a certain extent from both sites by the neurosteroids pregnenolone sulphate (PS), pregnanolone sulphate (3α5βS) and dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEAS). The remainder of the [³H]ifenprodil was displaced from the sigma-1 site by the sigma-1 receptor-selective ligand (+)-SKF 10,047. Chronic nandrolone treatment changed the sigma-1 receptor target for the neurosteroids but not for ifenprodil. The sigma-2 receptor site was unaltered by treatment with nandrolone decanoate. The results also indicated that the neurosteroid-induced allosteric modulation of the NMDA receptor subunit NR2B was not affected by nandrolone treatment. We conclude that chronic treatment with nandrolone changes the affinity of the neurosteroids PS, 3α5βS and DHEAS at the sigma-1 site but not at the sites on the sigma-2 receptor or the NMDA receptor subunit NR2B.
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