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J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2006 May;317(2):694-703. Epub 2006 Jan 13.

The pheromone androstenol (5 alpha-androst-16-en-3 alpha-ol) is a neurosteroid positive modulator of GABAA receptors.

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Epilepsy Research Section, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


Androstenol is a steroidal compound belonging to the group of odorous 16-androstenes, first isolated from boar testes and also found in humans. Androstenol has pheromone-like properties in both animals and humans, but the molecular targets of its pheromonal activity are unknown. Androstenol is structurally similar to endogenous A-ring reduced neurosteroids that act as positive modulators of GABA(A) receptors. Here we show that androstenol has neurosteroid-like activity as a GABA(A) receptor modulator. In whole-cell recordings from cerebellar granule cells, androstenol (but not its 3beta-epimer) caused a concentration-dependent enhancement of GABA-activated currents (EC(50), 0.4 microM in cultures; 1.4 microM in slices) and prolonged the duration of spontaneous and miniature inhibitory postsynaptic currents. Androstenol (0.1-1 microM) also potentiated the amplitude of GABA-activated currents in human embryonic kidney 293 cells transfected with recombinant alpha1beta2gamma2 and alpha2beta2gamma2 GABA(A) receptors and, at high concentrations (10-300 microM), directly activated currents in these cells. Systemic administration of androstenol (30-50 mg/kg) caused anxiolytic-like effects in mice in the open-field test and elevated zero-maze and antidepressant-like effects in the forced swim test (5-10 mg/kg). Androstenol, but not its 3beta-epimer, conferred seizure protection in the 6-Hz electroshock and pentylenetetrazol models (ED(50) values, 21.9 and 48.9 mg/kg, respectively). The various actions of androstenol in the whole-animal models are consistent with its activity as a GABA(A) receptor modulator. GABA(A) receptors could represent a target for androstenol as a pheromone, for which it is well suited because of high volatility and lipophilicity, or as a conventional hormonal neurosteroid.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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