Neurosteroids: 3 alpha-hydroxy-5 alpha-pregnan-20-one and its precursors in the brain, plasma, and steroidogenic glands of male and female rats

Endocrinology. 1993 Sep;133(3):1003-9. doi: 10.1210/endo.133.3.8365352.


A RIA procedure for measuring progesterone (PROG), 5 alpha-pregnane-3,20-dione (5 alpha-DH PROG), and 3 alpha-hydroxy-5 alpha-pregnan-20-one (3 alpha,5 alpha-TH PROG) has been developed and validated by GLC/mass spectrometry. Measurements were made in intact and adrenalectomized (ADX) male rats, in cyclic, pregnant, spayed, and spayed-ADX females, and in both males and spayed females injected with PROG. The predominant contribution of the ovary to the concentrations of 3 alpha,5 alpha-TH PROG in plasma and brain, was indicated by its larger levels in females, in particular during pregnancy, and by its presence in ovarian tissue and disappearance after ovariectomy. An additional adrenal origin in both males and females was shown. Neither PROG nor 5 alpha-DH PROG disappeared from brain, contrary to plasma, after combined adrenalectomy and gonadectomy, thus suggesting that PROG might be synthetized de novo in brain. However, the concentrations of 3 alpha,5 alpha-TH PROG in plasma and brain of female rats were positively correlated with the concentrations of PROG in plasma, indicating that plasma PROG was the major precursor of 3 alpha,5 alpha-TH PROG. The direct formation of 3 alpha,5 alpha-TH PROG from PROG in brain was strongly suggested by the increased 3 alpha,5 alpha-TH PROG/PROG ratios in brain vs. plasma, when measured in control females, and after injection of PROG to both males and OVX females. It was previously reported that 3 alpha,5 alpha-TH PROG is a sedative/anxiolytic steroid, as a result of its binding to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)A receptors and allosteric potentiation of GABAcergic neurotransmission. Its concentrations in brain reach indeed the neuroactive range in cyclic and pregnant females, and are compatible with a physiological role of this neurosteroid.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 5-alpha-Dihydroprogesterone
  • Adrenal Glands / metabolism
  • Adrenalectomy
  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Male
  • Orchiectomy
  • Ovariectomy
  • Ovary / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnanediones / blood
  • Pregnanediones / metabolism*
  • Pregnanolone / blood
  • Pregnanolone / metabolism*
  • Progesterone / blood
  • Progesterone / metabolism*
  • Progesterone / pharmacology
  • Radioimmunoassay
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Testis / metabolism


  • Pregnanediones
  • Progesterone
  • 5-alpha-Dihydroprogesterone
  • Pregnanolone