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Biol Psychiatry. 1999 Feb 1;45(3):274-7.

Concentrations of 3 alpha-reduced neuroactive steroids and their precursors in plasma of patients with major depression and after clinical recovery.

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Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Munich, Germany.



There is preclinical and clinical evidence that plasma concentrations of 3 alpha-hydroxy-5 alpha-pregnan-20-one (3 alpha,5 alpha-tetrahydroprogesterone; 3 alpha,5 alpha-THP), a neuroactive steroid that is a positive allosteric modulator of the GABAA receptor, are altered in depression and normalize as a result of antidepressant treatment. However, no data are available on the concentrations of 3 alpha,21-dihydroxy-5 alpha-pregnan-20-one (3 alpha,5 alpha-tetrahydrodeoxycorticosterone; 3 alpha,5 alpha-THDOC), another GABA ergic neuroactive steroid, in depression.


We studied nine depressed patients before and after treatment with various antidepressants and compared them to healthy matched control subjects. Blood samples were quantified by means of a highly sensitive combined gas chromatography/mass spectrometry analysis.


Compared to control subjects, plasma concentrations of 3 alpha,5 alpha-THDOC and its precursor 5 alpha-dihydrodeoxycorticosterone (5 alpha-DHDOC) were increased in depressed patients and were not significantly influenced by antidepressant treatment. However, 3 alpha,5 alpha-THP plasma concentrations were decreased in depression and clinically effective antidepressant treatment was accompanied by an increase of 3 alpha,5 alpha-THP concentrations in these patients.


Our results provide the first evidence for a differential alteration in the plasma concentrations of the 3 alpha-reduced neuroactive steroids 3 alpha,5 alpha-THDOC and 3 alpha,5 alpha-THP in major depression, which is only partially reversed by successful antidepressant treatment.

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