The role of pregnane neurosteroids in ethanol withdrawal: Behavioral genetic approaches

Deborah A. Finn, Matthew M. Ford, Kristine M. Wiren, Charles E. Roselli, John C. Crabbe

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


Within the last 20 years, rapid nongenomic actions of steroid hormones have been demonstrated to occur via an interaction with ligand-gated ion channels. For example, the pregnane neurosteroid allopregnanolone (ALLOP) is a potent positive modulator of γ-aminobutyric acidA (GABA A) receptors. The physiological significance of fluctuations in endogenous ALLOP levels has been investigated with regard to disease states and the effect of therapeutic agents on ALLOP levels. Because the pharmacological profile of ALLOP is similar to that of ethanol (EtOH), the modulatory effect of pregnane neurosteroids on EtOH dependence and withdrawal will be the focus of this review. Data on the effects of chronic EtOH exposure and withdrawal on pregnane neurosteroid levels, biosynthetic enzymes, and changes in neurosteroid sensitivity will be summarized. Results from genetic animal models indicate that seizure-prone animals have a persistent decrease in endogenous ALLOP levels during EtOH withdrawal in conjunction with tolerance to ALLOP's anticonvulsant effect. Manipulation of endogenous ALLOP levels with finasteride also markedly reduced the severity of chronic EtOH withdrawal. Gene mapping studies provide a hint for an interaction between genes for GABAA receptor subunits and the biosynthetic enzyme 5α-reductase. Overall, the results are suggestive of a relationship between endogenous pregnane neurosteroid levels and behavioral changes in excitability during EtOH withdrawal, consistent with recent findings in humans. While the findings with ALLOP emphasize the therapeutic potential of neurosteroid treatment during EtOH withdrawal, the gene mapping studies suggest that pregnane neurosteroid biosynthesis may represent a target for therapeutic intervention in the treatment of alcohol dependence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)91-112
Number of pages22
JournalPharmacology and Therapeutics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2004


  • Behavioral sensitivity
  • Biosynthetic enzymes
  • Functional sensitivity
  • GABA receptor
  • Inbred strains
  • Selected lines

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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