Finasteride (FIN) is the prototypical inhibitor of steroid 5α-reductase (5αR), the enzyme that catalyzes the rate-limiting step of the conversion of progesterone and testosterone into their main neuroactive metabolites. FIN is clinically approved for the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia and male baldness; while often well-tolerated, FIN has also been shown to cause or exacerbate psychological problems in vulnerable subjects. Evidence on the psychological effects of FIN, however, remains controversial, in view of inconsistent clinical reports. Here, we tested the effects of FIN in a battery of tests aimed at capturing complementary aspects of mood regulation and stress reactivity in rats. FIN reduced exploratory, incentive, prosocial, and risk-taking behavior; furthermore, it decreased stress coping, as revealed by increased immobility in the forced-swim test (FST). This last effect was also observed in female and orchiectomized male rats, suggesting that the mechanism of action of FIN does not primarily reflect changes in gonadal steroids. The effects of FIN on FST responses were associated with a dramatic decrease in corticotropin release hormone (CRH) mRNA and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) levels. These results suggest that FIN impairs stress reactivity and reduces behavioral activation and impulsive behavior by altering the function of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.
Keywords: 5α reductase; HPA axis; anxiety; depression; finasteride; impulsivity.