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Cellular Distribution of the GABAA Receptor-Modulating 3α-Hydroxy, 5α-Reduced Pregnane Steroids in the Adult Rat Brain


Dr Yuri B. Saalmann, Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences, University of Melbourne, Corner of Keppel and Cardigan Streets, Carlton, Victoria 3053, Australia (e-mail:


The 3α-hydroxy,5α-reduced pregnane steroids, allopregnanolone and allotetrahydrodeoxycorticosterone, are the most potent endogenous positive modulators of GABAA receptor-mediated inhibition. This study presents the first immunohistochemical examination of the cellular distribution of 3α-hydroxy,5α-reduced pregnane steroids across the brain. We found a widespread distribution in the adult rat, with dense immunolabelling in the olfactory bulb, striatum and cerebral cortex, and lower density labelling in the brainstem reticular formation. In general terms, this distribution accords with the regional concentrations of 3α-hydroxy,5α-reduced steroids determined, in other laboratories, by brain region sampling and either gas chromatography-mass fragmentography or radioimmunoassay. However, immunohistochemistry allowed for a more detailed examination of regional distribution and cellular specificity. All immunoreactivity was confined to the cell bodies and thick dendrites of neurones; no identifiable glia were labelled. In most brain areas, the location and morphology of labelled cells identified them as excitatory neurones. In addition, cell populations known to be projecting GABAergic neurones (e.g. cerebellar Purkinje cells) were immunoreactive, whereas local inhibitory neurones generally were not. The cellular distribution of 3α-hydroxy,5α-reduced steroids suggests that sensory, motor, limbic and homeostatic systems can be influenced by neurosteroids at multiple stages of processing.