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J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2015 Feb;146:48-61. doi: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2014.09.001. Epub 2014 Sep 6.

Progesterone and allopregnanolone in the central nervous system: response to injury and implication for neuroprotection.

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UMR 788, Inserm and University Paris-Sud, 80 rue du Général Leclerc, 94276 Bicêtre, Kremlin-Bicêtre, France. Electronic address:
Instituto de Biologia y Medicina Experimental and University of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
UMR 788, Inserm and University Paris-Sud, 80 rue du Général Leclerc, 94276 Bicêtre, Kremlin-Bicêtre, France.


Progesterone is a well-known steroid hormone, synthesized by ovaries and placenta in females, and by adrenal glands in both males and females. Several tissues are targets of progesterone and the nervous system is a major one. Progesterone is also locally synthesized by the nervous system and qualifies, therefore, as a neurosteroid. In addition, the nervous system has the capacity to bio-convert progesterone into its active metabolite allopregnanolone. The enzymes required for progesterone and allopregnanolone synthesis are widely distributed in brain and spinal cord. Increased local biosynthesis of pregnenolone, progesterone and 5α-dihydroprogesterone may be a part of an endogenous neuroprotective mechanism in response to nervous system injuries. Progesterone and allopregnanolone neuroprotective effects have been widely recognized. Multiple receptors or associated proteins may contribute to the progesterone effects: classical nuclear receptors (PR), membrane progesterone receptor component 1 (PGRMC1), membrane progesterone receptors (mPR), and γ-aminobutyric acid type A (GABAA) receptors after conversion to allopregnanolone. In this review, we will succinctly describe progesterone and allopregnanolone biosynthetic pathways and enzyme distribution in brain and spinal cord. Then, we will summarize our work on progesterone receptor distribution and cellular expression in brain and spinal cord; neurosteroid stimulation after nervous system injuries (spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, and stroke); and on progesterone and allopregnanolone neuroprotective effects in different experimental models including stroke and spinal cord injury. We will discuss in detail the neuroprotective effects of progesterone on the nervous system via PR, and of allopregnanolone via its modulation of GABAA receptors.


GABA(A) receptors; Membrane progesterone receptor component 1 (PGRMC1); Membrane progesterone receptors (mPR); Neurosteroids; Progesterone receptors (PR); Progestins

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