Neurotoxic properties of the anabolic androgenic steroids nandrolone and methandrostenolone in primary neuronal cultures

J Neurosci Res. 2011 Apr;89(4):592-600. doi: 10.1002/jnr.22578. Epub 2011 Feb 2.


Anabolic-androgenic steroid (AAS) abuse is associated with multiple neurobehavioral disturbances. The sites of action and the neurobiological sequels of AAS abuse are unclear at present. We investigated whether two different AASs, nandrolone and methandrostenolone, could affect neuronal survival in culture. The endogenous androgenic steroid testosterone was used for comparison. Both testosterone and nandrolone were neurotoxic at micromolar concentrations, and their effects were prevented by blockade of androgen receptors (ARs) with flutamide. Neuronal toxicity developed only over a 48-hr exposure to the steroids. The cell-impermeable analogues testosterone-BSA and nandrolone-BSA, which preferentially target membrane-associated ARs, were also neurotoxic in a time-dependent and flutamide-sensitive manner. Testosterone-BSA and nandrolone-BSA were more potent than their parent compounds, suggesting that membrane-associated ARs were the relevant sites for the neurotoxic actions of the steroids. Unlike testosterone and nandrolone, toxicity by methandrostenolone and methandrostenolone-BSA was insensitive to flutamide, but it was prevented by the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) antagonist RU-486. Methandrostenolone-BSA was more potent than the parent compound, suggesting that its toxicity relied on the preferential activation of putative membrane-associated GRs. Consistently with the evidence that membrane-associated GRs can mediate rapid effects, a brief challenge with methandrostenolone-BSA was able to promote neuronal toxicity. Activation of putative membrane steroid receptors by nontoxic (nanomolar) concentrations of either nandrolone-BSA or methandrostenolone-BSA became sufficient to increase neuronal susceptibility to the apoptotic stimulus provided by β-amyloid (the main culprit of AD). We speculate that AAS abuse might facilitate the onset or progression of neurodegenerative diseases not usually linked to drug abuse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anabolic Agents / toxicity*
  • Androgens / toxicity
  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / drug effects
  • Astrocytes / metabolism
  • Astrocytes / pathology
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Death / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Methandrostenolone / toxicity*
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Nandrolone / toxicity*
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / pathology
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / metabolism*
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / pathology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Androgen / metabolism
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / metabolism
  • Serum Albumin, Bovine / pharmacology


  • Anabolic Agents
  • Androgens
  • Receptors, Androgen
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid
  • Serum Albumin, Bovine
  • Nandrolone
  • Methandrostenolone