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Front Cell Neurosci. 2012 Jan 30;6:4. doi: 10.3389/fncel.2012.00004. eCollection 2011 Jan.

The reciprocal regulation of stress hormones and GABA(A) receptors.

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Department of Neurology, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles CA, USA.


Stress-derived steroid hormones regulate the expression and function of GABA(A) receptors (GABA(A)Rs). Changes in GABA(A)R subunit expression have been demonstrated under conditions of altered steroid hormone levels, such as stress, as well as following exogenous steroid hormone administration. In addition to the effects of stress-derived steroid hormones on GABA(A)R subunit expression, stress hormones can also be metabolized to neuroactive derivatives which can alter the function of GABA(A)Rs. Neurosteroids allosterically modulate GABA(A)Rs at concentrations comparable to those during stress. In addition to the actions of stress-derived steroid hormones on GABA(A)Rs, GABA(A)Rs reciprocally regulate the production of stress hormones. The stress response is mediated by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, the activity of which is governed by corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) neurons. The activity of CRH neurons is largely controlled by robust GABAergic inhibition. Recently, it has been demonstrated that CRH neurons are regulated by neurosteroid-sensitive, GABA(A)R δ subunit-containing receptors representing a novel feedback mechanism onto the HPA axis. Further, it has been demonstrated that neurosteroidogenesis and neurosteroid actions on GABA(A)R δ subunit-containing receptors on CRH neurons are necessary to mount the physiological response to stress. Here we review the literature describing the effects of steroid hormones on GABA(A)Rs as well as the importance of GABA(A)Rs in regulating the production of steroid hormones. This review incorporates what we currently know about changes in GABA(A)Rs following stress and the role in HPA axis regulation.


CRH; GABA; corticosterone; inhibition; stress

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