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Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2014 Sep;231(17):3537-56. doi: 10.1007/s00213-014-3643-x. Epub 2014 Jul 6.

Pregnenolone sulfate as a modulator of synaptic plasticity.

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Laboratory of Molecular Neurobiology, Department of Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics, Boston University School of Medicine, 72 East Concord St., Boston, MA, 02118, USA.



The neurosteroid pregnenolone sulfate (PregS) acts as a cognitive enhancer and modulator of neurotransmission, yet aligning its pharmacological and physiological effects with reliable measurements of endogenous local concentrations and pharmacological and therapeutic targets has remained elusive for over 20 years.


New basic and clinical research concerning neurosteroid modulation of the central nervous system (CNS) function has emerged over the past 5 years, including important data involving pregnenolone and various neurosteroid precursors of PregS that point to a need for a critical status update.


Highly specific actions of PregS affecting excitatory N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR)-mediated synaptic transmission and the pharmacological effects of PregS on various receptors and ion channels are discussed. The discovery of a high potency (nanomolar) signal transduction pathway for PregS-induced NMDAR trafficking to the cell surface via a Ca(2+)- and G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR)-dependent mechanism and a potent (EC50 ~ 2 pM) direct enhancement of intracellular Ca(2+) levels is discussed in terms of its agonist effects on long-term potentiation (LTP) and memory. Lastly, preclinical and clinical studies assessing the promnestic effects of PregS and pregnenolone toward cognitive dysfunction in schizophrenia, and altered serum levels in epilepsy and alcohol dependence, are reviewed.


PregS is present in human and rodent brain at physiologically relevant concentrations and meets most of the criteria for an endogenous neurotransmitter/neuromodulator. PregS likely plays a significant role in modulation of glutamatergic excitatory synaptic transmission underlying learning and memory, yet the molecular target(s) for its action awaits identification.

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