Objective. Nearly half of Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans experience continued pain post-deployment. Several investigations report analgesic effects of allopregnanolone and other neurosteroids in animal models, but few data are currently available focusing on neurosteroids in clinical populations. Allopregnanolone positively modulates GABAA receptors and demonstrates pronounced analgesic and anxiolytic effects in rodents, yet studies examining the relationship between pain and allopregnanolone in humans are limited. We thus hypothesized that endogenous allopregnanolone and other neurosteroid levels may be negatively correlated with self-reported pain symptoms in humans.
Design. We determined serum neurosteroid levels by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (allopregnanolone, pregnenolone) or radioimmunoassay (dehydroepiandrosterone [DHEA], progesterone, DHEA sulfate [DHEAS]) in 90 male veterans who served in the U.S. military after September 11, 2001. Self-reported pain symptoms were assessed in four areas (low back pain, chest pain, muscle soreness, headache). Stepwise linear regression analyses were conducted to investigate the relationship between pain assessments and neurosteroids, with the inclusion of smoking, alcohol use, age, and history of traumatic brain injury as covariates.
Setting. Durham VA Medical Center.
Results. Allopregnanolone levels were inversely associated with low back pain (P = 0.044) and chest pain (P = 0.013), and DHEA levels were inversely associated with muscle soreness (P = 0.024). DHEAS levels were positively associated with chest pain (P = 0.001). Additionally, there was a positive association between traumatic brain injury and muscle soreness (P = 0.002).
Conclusions. Neurosteroids may be relevant to the pathophysiology of self-reported pain symptoms in this veteran cohort, and could represent future pharmacological targets for pain disorders.