Prolonged alcohol (ethanol) consumption leads to the development of alcohol tolerance and cross-tolerance to some benzodiazepines and barbiturates. In contrast, rats undergoing alcohol withdrawal are sensitized to the anticonvulsant effects of the endogenous GABA(A) receptor modulator, 3alpha-hydroxy-5alpha-pregnan-20-one (3alpha,5alpha-THP). Alterations in endogenous, cerebral cortical levels of 3alpha,5alpha-THP during alcohol withdrawal could contribute to the observed sensitization to 3alpha,5alpha-THP. Therefore, this study investigated plasma and brain levels of 3alpha,5alpha-THP, progesterone, and corticosterone during alcohol dependence and withdrawal in the rat. Plasma corticosterone, progesterone (a precursor of 3alpha,5alpha-THP) and 3alpha,5alpha-THP levels were unchanged in alcohol-dependent animals. Cerebral cortical levels of 3alpha,5alpha-THP decreased in dependent male animals, but not in dependent female rats. During alcohol withdrawal, plasma corticosterone and progesterone levels increased in male, but not female rats. However, neither plasma nor cerebral cortical 3alpha,5alpha-THP levels were altered from control levels in male or female rats during alcohol withdrawal. Plasma and brain levels of 3alpha,5alpha-THP were markedly higher in female compared with male rats. Cerebral cortical levels of 3alpha,5alpha-THP during the diestrus phase of the estrus cycle were approximately 4 to 6 ng/g, a concentration that may approach physiological relevance. These findings suggest that sensitization to 3alpha,5alpha-THP during alcohol withdrawal is not mediated by elevations in brain levels of endogenous 3alpha,5alpha-THP in male or female rats. However, elevations in circulating corticosterone and progesterone levels during ethanol withdrawal in male rats may underlie gender differences in allopregnanolone sensitivity during ethanol withdrawal.