The ability of the nitric oxide (NO) synthase inhibitor, NG-nitro-l-arginine methyl ester (L-NAME), to modulate the attenuating effects of neurosteroids on the aging- and NMDA receptor antagonist dizocilpine-induced learning impairment, was tested in mice using two different behavioral models of long-term memory. The performance of aged mice (16 months old) in step-down type of passive-avoidance and elevated plus-maze paradigms was significantly impaired compared to that of young mice (3 months old). Neurosteroids pregnenolone sulfate (PS) and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS), at 1-20 mg/kg, s.c., significantly improved the passive-avoidance and plus-maze performances in aged mice. Neurosteroids PS and DHEAS, at doses 1-20 mg/kg, s.c., significantly attenuated dizocilpine (0.1 mg/kg, i.p.)-induced amnesia, without producing any promnestic effects alone in adult mice. In both cognitive tasks, the effects exhibited by the neurosteroids tested had a bell-shaped curve. Preadministration of L-NAME (10 and 20 mg/kg, i.p.), at doses that did not disrupt cognition alone in either young or aged mice, significantly blocked the beneficial and antiamnesic effects of neurosteroids PS (5 mg/kg) and DHEAS (10 mg/kg). A selective action of L-NAME on the effects of neurosteroids was indicated, since the effects of L-NAME were completely reversed by L-arginine (300 mg/kg, i.p.), a competitive substrate for NO synthase. Neither L-NAME nor L-arginine alone affected the antinociception, locomotor activity or rota-rod performance of young or aged mice. These observations suggest that a NO-dependent mechanism may be involved in the beneficial and antiamnesic effects of neurosteroids PS and DHEAS on the aging- and dizocilpine-induced impairment of learning and memory processes.
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