The interaction of neuroactive steroids and GABA in the development of neuropsychiatric disorders in women

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A growing literature suggests that hormonal fluctuations occurring across the menstrual cycle, during and after pregnancy, and during the menopausal transition are associated with onset of affective disorders or exacerbation of existing disorders. This influence of the neuroendocrine system on psychiatric disorders is thought to be mediated by an abnormality in central nervous system response to neuroactive steroids such as estradiol, progesterone, and the progesterone derivative allopregnanolone (ALLO). This interplay is considerably complex as neuroactive steroids modulate the function of multiple neurotransmitter systems throughout various stages of development. While one could choose to study any number of steroid–neurotransmitter interactions, our group in addition to others has focused our investigative efforts on unraveling the contribution of neuroactive steroids to psychiatric syndromes and disorders via their modulation of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), the brain's major inhibitory neurotransmitter. The goal of this article is two-fold: to synthesize the clinical and preclinical research focusing on the interplay between neuroactive steroids and GABA as they relate to neuropsychiatric and substance use disorders in women and to integrate data from our laboratory using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy into this context.

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