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Background: Ethanol administration elevates the levels of GABAergic neuroactive steroids in brain and contributes to some of its behavioral actions. In the present study, we investigated whether such elevation of GABAergic neuroactive steroids contributes to the motor incoordinating effects of ethanol.

Methods: Sprague-Dawley rats were administered ethanol (2 g/kg intraperitoneally) or saline, and the level of 3α-hydroxy-5α-pregnan-20-one (3α,5α-THP) was measured across time in cerebral cortex and in various brain regions at the peak time by radioimmunoassay. To study whether increases in GABAergic neuroactive steroids are responsible for the motor incoordinating actions of ethanol, rats were subjected to chemical (5α-reductase inhibitor, finasteride) and surgical (adrenalectomy) manipulations before receiving ethanol (2 g/kg intraperitoneally) injections. The rats were then subjected to different paradigms to evaluate motor impairment including the Majchrowicz motor intoxication rating scale, Rotarod test, and aerial righting reflex task at different time points.

Results: The radioimmunoassay of 3α,5α-THP in different brain regions showed that ethanol increases 3α,5α-THP levels by 3- and 9-fold in cerebral cortex and hippocampus, respectively. There was no change in 3α,5α-THP levels in cerebellum and midbrain. The time course of 3α,5α-THP elevations in the cerebral cortex showed significant increases 20-min after ethanol injection with a peak at 60 min. In contrast, motor toxicity peaked between 5 and 10 min after ethanol injections and gradually decreased over time. Furthermore, adrenalectomy or pretreatment with finasteride (2 × 50 mg/kg, subcutaneously) did not reduce motor incoordinating effects of ethanol as assessed by the Majchrowicz intoxication rating score, Rotarod test, or aerial righting reflex task.

Conclusions: Ethanol increases GABAergic neuroactive steroids in a time- and brain region-selective manner. The role of neuroactive steroids in alcohol action is specific for certain behaviors. Alcohol-induced deficits in motor coordination are not mediated by elevated neuroactive steroid biosynthesis.