Neurosteroid effects at α4βδ GABAA receptors alter spatial learning and synaptic plasticity in CA1 hippocampus across the estrous cycle of the mouse

Nicole Sabaliauskas, Hui Shen, Jonela Molla, Qi Hua Gong, Aarti Kuver, Chiye Aoki, Sheryl S. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fluctuations in circulating levels of ovarian hormones have been shown to regulate cognition (Sherwin and Grigorova, 2011. Fertil. Steril. 96, 399-403; Shumaker et al., 2004. JAMA. 291, 2947-2958), but increases in estradiol on the day of proestrus yield diverse outcomes: In vivo induction of long-term potentiation (LTP), a model of learning, is reduced in the morning, but optimal in the afternoon (Warren et al., 1995. Brain Res. 703, 26-30). The mechanism underlying this discrepancy is not known. Here, we show that impairments in both CA1 hippocampal LTP and spatial learning observed on the morning of proestrus are due to increased dendritic expression of α4βδ GABAA receptors (GABARs) on CA1 pyramidal cells, as assessed by electron microscopic (EM) techniques, compared with estrus and diestrus. LTP induction and spatial learning were robust, however, when assessed on the morning of proestrus in α4-/- mice, implicating these receptors in mediating impaired plasticity. Although α4βδ expression remained elevated on the afternoon of proestrus, increases in 3α-OH-THP (3α-OH-5α-pregnan-20-one) decreased inhibition by reducing outward current through α4βδ GABARs (Shen et al., 2007. Nat. Neurosci. 10, 469-477), in contrast to the usual effect of this steroid to enhance inhibition. Proestrous levels of 3α-OH-THP reversed the deficits in LTP and spatial learning, an effect prevented by the inactive metabolite 3β-OH-THP (10 mg/kg, i.p.), which antagonizes actions of 3α-OH-THP. In contrast, administration of 3α-OH-THP (10 mg/kg, i.p.) on the morning of proestrus improved spatial learning scores 150-300%. These findings suggest that cyclic fluctuations in ovarian steroids can induce changes in cognition via α4βδ GABARs that are dependent upon 3α-OH-THP.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)170-186
Number of pages17
JournalBrain Research
StatePublished - Sep 24 2015


  • Allopregnanolone
  • Alpha4
  • Cognition
  • Delta
  • GABA-A receptor
  • Ovarian hormones

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology


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