Expression of specific γ-aminobutyric acid type A (GABAA) receptor subunit genes in neurons is affected by endogenous modulators of receptor function such as neuroactive steroids.
Neuroactive steroids such as the progesterone metabolite allopregnanolone might thus exert differential effects on GABAA receptor plasticity in neurons, likely accounting for some of the physiological actions of these compounds.
Here we summarise experimental data obtained in vitro that show how fluctuations in the concentration of progesterone regulate both the expression and function of GABAA receptors.
The data described in this manuscript are in agreement with the notion that fluctuations in the concentrations of progesterone and its metabolite allopregnanolone play a major role in the temporal pattern of expression of various subunits of the GABAA receptor. Thus, rapid and long-lasting increases or decreases in the concentrations of these steroid derivatives observed in physiological and patho-physiological conditions, or induced by pharmacological treatments, might elicit selective changes in GABAA receptor gene expression and function in specific neuronal populations. Given both the importance of GABAA receptors in the regulation of neuronal excitability and the large fluctuations in the plasma and brain concentrations of neuroactive steroids associated with physiological conditions and the response to environmental stimuli, these compounds are likely among the most relevant endogenous modulators that could affect emotional and affective behaviors.