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J Neurosci. 2004 Nov 10;24(45):10280-7.

Progesterone attenuates corticotropin-releasing factor-enhanced but not fear-potentiated startle via the activity of its neuroactive metabolite, allopregnanolone.

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Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and The Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia 30322, USA.


Intact female rats and ovariectomized (OVX) rats with different ovarian steroid replacement regimens were tested for changes in corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF)-enhanced startle (increased acoustic startle amplitude after intracerebroventricular infusion of 1 mug of CRF). OVX rats injected with estradiol (E) followed by progesterone (P) showed a blunted CRF-enhanced startle effect compared with OVX and E-injected rats. CRF-enhanced startle also was reduced significantly in lactating females (high endogenous P levels) compared with cycling rats (low to moderate P levels), as well as in non-E-primed rats when P was administered acutely (4 hr before testing) or chronically (7 d P replacement). The ability of P to attenuate CRF-enhanced startle was probably mediated by its metabolite allopregnanolone [tetrahydroprogesterone (THP)], because THP itself had a similar effect, and chronic administration of medroxyprogesterone, which is not metabolized to THP, did not blunt CRF-enhanced startle but instead slightly increased it. These data suggest that P blunts CRF-enhanced startle through a mechanism involving its neuroactive metabolite THP, although a role for the P receptor cannot be completely ruled out. Finally, neither chronic P replacement nor acute THP affected fear-potentiated startle, suggesting that P metabolites have an effect on the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis and anxiety rather than on the amygdala and stimulus-specific fear.

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