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Neuropharmacology. 2007 Jun;52(7):1439-53. Epub 2007 Feb 28.

Steroid modulation of GABAA receptor-mediated transmission in the hypothalamus: effects on reproductive function.

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Department of Physiology, Dartmouth Medical School, Hanover, NH 03755, USA. <>


The hypothalamus, the seat of neuroendocrine control, is exquisitely sensitive to gonadal steroids. For decades it has been known that androgens, estrogens and progestins, acting through nuclear hormone receptors, elicit both organizational and activational effects in the hypothalamus and basal forebrain that are essential for reproductive function. While changes in gene expression mediated by these classical hormone pathways are paramount in governing both sexual differentiation and the neural control of reproduction, it is also clear that steroids impart critical control of neuroendocrine functions through non-genomic mechanisms. Specifically, endogenous neurosteroid derivatives of deoxycorticosterone, progesterone and testosterone, as well and synthetic anabolic androgenic steroids that are self-administered as drugs of abuse, elicit acute effects via allosteric modulation of gamma-aminobutyric acid type A receptors. GABAergic transmission within the hypothalamus and basal forebrain is a key regulator of pubertal onset, the expression of sexual behaviors, pregnancy and parturition. Summarized here are the known actions of steroid modulators on GABAergic transmission within the hypothalamus/basal forebrain, with a focus on the medial preoptic area and the supraoptic/paraventricular nuclei that are known to be central players in the control of reproduction.

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