Ganaxolone improves behavioral deficits in a mouse model of post-traumatic stress disorder

Front Cell Neurosci. 2014 Sep 11:8:256. doi: 10.3389/fncel.2014.00256. eCollection 2014.


Allopregnanolone and its equipotent stereoisomer, pregnanolone (together termed ALLO), are neuroactive steroids that positively and allosterically modulate the action of gamma-amino-butyric acid (GABA) at GABAA receptors. Levels of ALLO are reduced in the cerebrospinal fluid of female premenopausal patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a severe, neuropsychiatric condition that affects millions, yet is without a consistently effective therapy. This suggests that restoring downregulated brain ALLO levels in PTSD may be beneficial. ALLO biosynthesis is also decreased in association with the emergence of PTSD-like behaviors in socially isolated (SI) mice. Similar to PTSD patients, SI mice also exhibit changes in the frontocortical and hippocampal expression of GABAA receptor subunits, resulting in resistance to benzodiazepine-mediated sedation and anxiolysis. ALLO acts at a larger spectrum of GABAA receptor subunits than benzodiazepines, and increasing corticolimbic ALLO levels in SI mice by injecting ALLO or stimulating ALLO biosynthesis with a selective brain steroidogenic stimulant, such as S-norfluoxetine, at doses far below those that block serotonin reuptake, reduces PTSD-like behavior in these mice. This suggests that synthetic analogs of ALLO, such as ganaxolone, may also improve anxiety, aggression, and other PTSD-like behaviors in the SI mouse model. Consistent with this hypothesis, ganaxolone (3.75-30 mg/kg, s.c.) injected 60 min before testing of SI mice, induced a dose-dependent reduction in aggression toward a same-sex intruder and anxiety-like behavior in an elevated plus maze. The EC50 dose of ganaxolone used in these tests also normalized exaggerated contextual fear conditioning and, remarkably, enhanced fear extinction retention in SI mice. At these doses, ganaxolone failed to change locomotion in an open field test. Therefore, unlike benzodiazepines, ganaxolone at non-sedating concentrations appears to improve dysfunctional emotional behavior associated with deficits in ALLO in mice and may provide an alternative treatment for PTSD patients with deficits in the synthesis of ALLO. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the only medications currently approved by the FDA for treatment of PTSD, although they are ineffective in a substantial proportion of PTSD patients. Hence, an ALLO analog such as ganaxolone may offer a therapeutic GABAergic alternative to SSRIs for the treatment of PTSD or other disorders in which ALLO biosynthesis may be impaired.

Keywords: 5α-reductase type I; GABAA receptor; PTSD; PTSD therapy; allopregnanolone; anxiety disorders; ganaxolone; selective brain steroidogenic stimulants.