The central nervous system (CNS) is able to synthesize and/or metabolize steroid hormones. These neuroactive steroids are capable of modulating several brain functions and, among these, they seem to regulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis. Indeed, recent observations have shown that 5 alpha-pregnane-3 alpha-ol-20-one (allopregnanolone), one of the most abundant naturally occurring neuroactive steroids, suppresses ovulation and sexual behaviour when administered within the CNS. The present study was undertaken to evaluate the effects of allopregnanolone and its inactive stereoisomer, 5 alpha-pregnane-3 beta-ol-20-one, upon the release of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) from individually-incubated hemihypothalami. Allopregnanolone suppressed GnRH release in a concentration-dependent manner with maximal activity in the nanomolar range, a range at which this neurosteroid is capable of playing a biological action. The specificity of allopregnanolone suppression of GnRH release was provided by the lack of effect of its known inactive stereoisomer. To evaluate the involvement of gamma-aminobutyric acidA (GABAA) receptor, we examined the effects of two neurosteroids with GABA-antagonistic properties, pregnanolone sulfate (PREG-S) and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS), and of bicuculline, a selective antagonist of the GABA binding site on the GABAA receptor, on allopregnanolone (10 nM)-suppressed GnRH release. Both PREG-S and bicuculline overcame the inhibitory effects of allopregnanolone on GnRH release, whereas DHEAS did not. To substantiate the involvement of the GABAA receptor further, we tested the effects of muscimol, a selective agonist for this receptor, which suppressed GnRH release. In conclusion, allopregnanolone suppressed hypothalamic GnRH release in vitro and this effect appeared to be mediated by an interaction with the GABAA receptor. We speculate that the inhibitory effect of allopregnanolone on the HPG axis may also be caused by its ability to suppress hypothalamic GnRH release.
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