Frank Beach Award Winner: Steroids as neuromodulators of brain circuits and behavior

Horm Behav. 2014 Aug;66(3):552-60. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2014.07.014. Epub 2014 Aug 7.


Neurons communicate primarily via action potentials that transmit information on the timescale of milliseconds. Neurons also integrate information via alterations in gene transcription and protein translation that are sustained for hours to days after initiation. Positioned between these two signaling timescales are the minute-by-minute actions of neuromodulators. Over the course of minutes, the classical neuromodulators (such as serotonin, dopamine, octopamine, and norepinephrine) can alter and/or stabilize neural circuit patterning as well as behavioral states. Neuromodulators allow many flexible outputs from neural circuits and can encode information content into the firing state of neural networks. The idea that steroid molecules can operate as genuine behavioral neuromodulators - synthesized by and acting within brain circuits on a minute-by-minute timescale - has gained traction in recent years. Evidence for brain steroid synthesis at synaptic terminals has converged with evidence for the rapid actions of brain-derived steroids on neural circuits and behavior. The general principle emerging from this work is that the production of steroid hormones within brain circuits can alter their functional connectivity and shift sensory representations by enhancing their information coding. Steroids produced in the brain can therefore change the information content of neuronal networks to rapidly modulate sensory experience and sensorimotor functions.

Keywords: Electrophysiology; Estrogens; Neurosteroids; STG; Songbird; Steroids.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / drug effects
  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Awards and Prizes
  • Behavior / drug effects*
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Nerve Net / drug effects*
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / pharmacology*


  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Neurotransmitter Agents