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Prog Neurobiol. 2014 Feb;113:79-87. doi: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2013.09.003. Epub 2013 Nov 8.

The role of allopregnanolone in depression and anxiety.

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Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Ludwig-Maximilian-University, Nussbaumstr. 7, 80336 Munich, Germany. Electronic address:
Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University Regensburg, Universitätsstrasse 84, 93053 Regensburg, Germany.


Neuroactive steroids such as allopregnanolone do not only act as transcriptional factors in the regulation of gene expression after intracellular back-oxidation into the 5-α pregnane steroids but may also alter neuronal excitability through interactions with specific neurotransmitter receptors. In particular, certain 3α-reduced metabolites of progesterone such as 3α,5α-tetrahydroprogesterone (allopregnanolone) and 3α,5β-tetrahydroprogesterone (pregnanolone) are potent positive allosteric modulators of the GABA(A) receptor complex. During the last years, the downregulation of neurosteroid biosynthesis has been intensively discussed to be a possible contributor to the development of anxiety and depressive disorder. Reduced levels of allopregnanolone in the peripheral blood or cerebrospinal fluid were found to be associated with major depression, anxiety disorders, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, negative symptoms in schizophrenia, or impulsive aggression. The importance of allopregnanolone for the regulation of emotion and its therapeutical use in depression and anxiety may not only involve GABAergic mechanisms, but probably also includes enhancement of neurogenesis, myelination, neuroprotection, and regulatory effects on HPA axis function. Certain pharmacokinetic obstacles limit the therapeutic use of natural neurosteroids (low bioavailability, oxidation to the ketone). Until now synthetic neuroactive steroids could not be established in the treatment of anxiety disorders or depression. However, the translocator protein (18 kDa) (TSPO) which is important for neurosteroidogenesis has been identified as a potential novel target. TSPO ligands such as XBD 173 increase neurosteroidogenesis and have anxiolytic effects with a favorable side effect profile.


Affective disorders; Allopregnanolone; Anxiety; Depression; Neuroactive steroids

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