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Eur J Pharmacol. 2004 Jan 26;484(2-3):241-7.

Ethanol-induced increases in neuroactive steroids in the rat brain and plasma are absent in adrenalectomized and gonadectomized rats.

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Department of Neuropharmacology, CVN-7, The Scripps Research Institute, 10550 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA.


Peripheral administration of alcohol has been demonstrated to cause significant increases in neurosteroid levels in the brain and periphery. These findings have led to several theories suggesting a role for neurosteroids in the actions of alcohol. However, the anatomical sources of these steroids (e.g., brain or periphery) are as yet unknown. This study utilized gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) to assess the levels of several neuroactive steroids in plasma and brain frontal cortex 30-360 min following acute administration of alcohol (2 g/kg, i.p.). Concentrations of pregnenolone, allopregnanolone (3alpha-hydroxy-5alpha-pregnan-20-one), and allotetrahydrodeoxycorticosterone (3alpha,21-dihydroxy-5alpha-pregnan-20-one) were all measured. In order to determine the contribution of peripheral endocrine organs to neurosteroid responses, neuroactive steroid levels were measured in both intact and adrenalectomized/gonadectomized male Wistar rats 30 min after acute administration of alcohol. Intact animals exhibited a maximal increase of pregnenolone in plasma and frontal cortex 30 min after acute administration of alcohol. In addition, allopregnanolone levels increased, with a maximal effect observed at 60 min in plasma. However, in the adrenalectomized/gonadectomized groups treated with alcohol, no significant increases of pregnenolone, allopregnanolone, or allotetrahydrodeoxycorticosterone were found after 30 min. Thus, the alcohol-induced response was associated first with a relatively rapid increase in the first and rate-limiting step in the conversion of cholesterol to steroids, leading to increases in pregnenolone levels. This response was followed by the further secretion of the anxiolytic neuroactive steroids allopregnanolone and allotetrahydrodeoxycorticosterone, both of which appeared to be of adrenal and gonadal origin.

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