Puberty, steroids and GABAA receptor plasticity

Sheryl S. Smith, Chiye Aoki, Hui Shen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


GABAA receptors (GABAR) mediate most inhibition in the CNS and are also a target for neuroactive steroids such as 3α,5[α]β-THP (3αOH-5[α]β-OH-pregnan-20-one or [allo]pregnanolone). Although these steroids robustly enhance current gated by α1β2δ GABAR, we have shown that 3α,5[α]β-THP effects at recombinant α4β2δ GABAR depend on the direction of Cl- flux, where the steroid increases outward flux, but decreases inward flux through the receptor. This polarity-dependent inhibition of α4β2δ GABAR resulted from an increase in the rate and extent of rapid desensitization of the receptor, recorded from recombinant receptors expressed in HEK-293 cells with whole cell voltage clamp techniques. This inhibitory effect of 3α,5[α]β-THP was not observed at other receptor subtypes, suggesting it was selective for α4β2δ GABAR. Furthermore, it was prevented by a selective mutation of basic residue arginine 353 in the intracellular loop of the receptor, suggesting that this might be a putative chloride modulatory site. Expression of α4βδ GABAR increases markedly at extrasynaptic sites at the onset of puberty in female mice. At this time, 3α,5[α]β-THP decreased the inhibitory tonic current, recorded with perforated patch techniques to maintain the physiological Cl- gradient. By decreasing this shunting inhibition, 3α,5[α]β-THP increased the excitability of CA1 hippocampal pyramidal cells at puberty. These effects of the steroid were opposite to those observed before puberty when 3α,5[α]β-THP reduced neuronal excitability as a pre-synaptic effect. Behaviorally, the excitatory effect of 3α,5[α]β-THP was reflected as an increase in anxiety at the onset of puberty in female mice. Taken together, these findings suggest that the emergence of α4β2δ GABAR at the onset of puberty reverses the effect of a stress steroid. These findings may be relevant for the mood swings and increased response to stressful events reported in adolescence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S91-S103
Issue numberSUPPL. 1
StatePublished - Dec 2009


  • Allopregnanolone
  • Anxiety
  • CA1 hippocampus
  • Chloride
  • GABA receptor
  • Neurosteroid
  • Pregnanolone
  • Puberty
  • Steroid withdrawal
  • Stress
  • Tonic current

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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