Neurosteroid modulation of synaptic and extrasynaptic GABAA receptors

Murray B. Herd, Delia Belelli, Jeremy J. Lambert

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    169 Citations (Scopus)


    Certain naturally occurring pregnane steroids act in a nongenomic manner to potently and selectively enhance the interaction of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA with the GABAA receptor. Consequently such steroids exhibit anxiolytic, anticonvulsant, analgesic, sedative, hypnotic, and anesthetic properties. In both physiological and pathophysiological scenarios, the pregnane steroids may function as endocrine messengers (e.g., produced in the periphery and cross the blood-brain barrier) to influence behaviour. However, additionally "neurosteroids" can be synthesised in the brain and spinal cord to act in a paracrine or autocrine manner and thereby locally influence neuronal activity. Given the ubiquitous expression of the GABAA receptor throughout the mammalian central nervous system (CNS), physiological, pathophysiological, or drug-induced pertubations of neurosteroid levels may be expected to produce widespread changes in brain excitability. However, the neurosteroid/GABAA receptor interaction is brain region and indeed neuron specific. The molecular basis of this specificity will be reviewed here, including (1) the importance of the subunit composition of the GABAA receptor; (2) how protein phosphorylation may dynamically influence the sensitivity of GABAA receptors to neurosteroids; (3) the impact of local steroid metabolism; and (4) the emergence of extrasynaptic GABAA receptors as a neurosteroid target.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)20-34
    Number of pages15
    JournalPharmacology & Therapeutics
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2007


    • Animals
    • Binding Sites
    • GABA-A Receptor Antagonists
    • Humans
    • Models, Biological
    • Molecular Structure
    • Protein Binding
    • Receptors, GABA-A
    • Receptors, Neurotransmitter
    • Steroids
    • Synaptic Transmission


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