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J Neuroendocrinol. 2018 Feb;30(2). doi: 10.1111/jne.12537.

Endogenous neurosteroids influence synaptic GABAA receptors during postnatal development.

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Division of Neuroscience, School of Medicine, Ninewells Hospital, University of Dundee, Dundee, UK.
Institute for Biomedical & Biomolecular Sciences, School of Pharmacy & Biomedical Sciences, University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, UK.


GABA plays a key role in both embryonic and neonatal brain development. For example, during early neonatal nervous system maturation, synaptic transmission, mediated by GABAA receptors (GABAA Rs), undergoes a temporally specific form of synaptic plasticity to accommodate the changing requirements of maturing neural networks. Specifically, the duration of miniature inhibitory postsynaptic currents (mIPSCs), resulting from vesicular GABA activating synaptic GABAA Rs, is reduced, permitting neurones to appropriately influence the window for postsynaptic excitation. Conventionally, programmed expression changes to the subtype of synaptic GABAA R are primarily implicated in this plasticity. However, it is now evident that, in developing thalamic and cortical principal- and inter-neurones, an endogenous neurosteroid tone (eg, allopregnanolone) enhances synaptic GABAA R function. Furthermore, a cessation of steroidogenesis, as a result of a lack of substrate, or a co-factor, appears to be primarily responsible for early neonatal changes to GABAergic synaptic transmission, followed by further refinement, which results from subsequent alterations of the GABAA R subtype. The timing of this cessation of neurosteroid influence is neurone-specific, occurring by postnatal day (P)10 in the thalamus but approximately 1 week later in the cortex. Neurosteroid levels are not static and change dynamically in a variety of physiological and pathophysiological scenarios. Given that GABA plays an important role in brain development, abnormal perturbations of neonatal GABAA R-active neurosteroids may have not only a considerable immediate, but also a longer-term impact upon neural network activity. Here, we review recent evidence indicating that changes in neurosteroidogenesis substantially influence neonatal GABAergic synaptic transmission. We discuss the physiological relevance of these findings and how the interference of neurosteroid-GABAA R interaction early in life may contribute to psychiatric conditions later in life.


GABAA receptor; cortex; neurosteroid; synaptic inhibition; thalamus

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