Neonatal neuroactive steroids levels are crucial for brain development. Alterations of neonatal neuroactive steroids levels induce anxiolytic-like effects and improve exploration in novel environments in adulthood. These behavioural traits, i.e. sensation/novelty seeking, anxiety or impulsivity, are associated with vulnerability to drug use and abuse. Adolescence is also recognized as a particularly critical developmental phase to contribute to vulnerable phenotype. However, the influence of neuroactive steroids during development in the vulnerability to drug addiction has been poorly studied. The aim of the present experiment is to study the effect of early neonatal and adolescent manipulations of neuroactive steroids on the sensitivity to the stimulant effects of ethanol in adult male rats. Therefore, allopregnanolone or finasteride, an allopregnanolone synthesis inhibitor, were injected from postnatal day 5–9. In early adolescence, half of the subjects were injected with progesterone, the main allopregnanolone precursor, and the elevated plus-maze anxiety test was performed.
Results indicated that early adolescent progesterone induced anxiolytic-like effects (increase in the percentage of entries and time in open arms). Neonatal finasteride administration decreased locomotor activity induced by ethanol in adolescent vehicle subjects. Interestingly, differences induced by neonatal treatments were not present in the animals that received progesterone in the early adolescence. In conclusion, neuroactive steroid manipulations in crucial stages of development could be playing an important role in behavioural effects of alcohol such as the sensitivity to locomotor stimulation.