Certain pregnane steroids are now established as potent, positive allosteric modulators of the y-aminobutyric acid type A (GABAA) receptor. These compounds are known to be synthesized in the periphery by endocrine glands, such as the ovaries and the adrenal glands, and can rapidly cross the blood-brain barrier. Therefore, such steroids could act as endogeneous modulators of the major inhibitory receptor in the mammalian central nervous system. However, the demonstration that certain neurons and glia can synthesize the pregnane steroids (i.e., neurosteroids) additionally suggests that they may serve a paracrine role by influencing GABAA-receptor function through their local release in the brain itself. Here, we demonstrate that these neurosteroids are highly selective and extremely potent modulators of the GABAA receptor. The subunit composition of the GABAA receptor may influence the actions of the neurosteroids, particularly when considering concentrations of these agents thought to occur physiologically, which may underlie their reported differential effects at certain inhibitory synapses. However, recent work suggests that the phosphorylation status of either the synaptic GABAA receptor or its associated proteins may also influence neurosteroid sensitivity; these findings are discussed. Upon administration, the neurosteroids exhibit clear behavioral effects, including sedation, anticonvulsant actions, and behaviors predictive of anxiolysis; when given at high doses, they induce general anesthesia. Numerous synthetic steroids have been synthesized in an attempt to therapeutically exploit these properties, and these data are reviewed in this chapter. However, targeting the brain enzymes that synthesize and metabolize the neurosteroids may offer a new approach to exploit this novel endocrine-paracrine neurotransmitter interaction, o 2001 Academic Press.