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Int Rev Neurobiol. 2001;46:207-41.

GABAA-receptor plasticity during long-term exposure to and withdrawal from progesterone.

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Department of Experimental Biology Bernardo Loddo, University of Cagliari, 09123 Cagliari, Italy.


The subunit composition of native gamma-aminobutyric acid type A (GABAA) receptors is an important determinant of the role of these receptors in the physiological and pharmacological modulation of neuronal excitability and associated behavior. GABAA receptors containing the alpha 1 subunit mediate the sedative-hypnotic effects of benzodiazepines (Rudolph et al., 1999; McKernan et al., 2000), whereas the anxiolytic effects of these drugs are mediated by receptors that contain the alpha 2 subunit (Löw et al., 2000). In contrast, GABAA receptors containing the alpha 4 or alpha 6 subunits are insensitive to benzodiazepines (Barnard et al., 1998). Characterization of the functions of GABAA-receptors thus requires an understanding of the mechanisms by which the receptor subunit composition is regulated. The expression of specific GABAA-receptor subunit genes in neurons is affected by endogenous and pharmacological modulators of receptor function. The expression of GABAA-receptor subunit genes is thus regulated by neuroactive steroids both in vitro and in vivo. Such regulation occurs both during physiological conditions, such as pregnancy, and during pharmacologically induced conditions, such as pseudo-pregnancy and long-term treatment with steroid derivatives or anxiolytic-hypnotic drugs. Here, we summarize results obtained by our laboratory and by other groups pertaining to the effects of long-term exposure to, and subsequent withdrawal from, progesterone and its metabolite 3 alpha,5 alpha-tetrahydroprogesterone on both the expression of GABAA-receptor subunits and GABAA-receptor function.

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