Neurosteroids in learning and memory processes
The discovery that neurosteroids could be synthesized de novo in the brain independent from the periphery and display neuronal actions led to great enthusiasm for the study of their physiological role. Pharmacological studies suggest that neurosteroids may be involved in several physiological processes, such as learning and memory. This chapter summarizes the effects of the administration of neurosteroids on learning and memory capabilities in rodents and in models of amnesia. We address the central mechanisms involved in mediating the modulation of learning and memory processes by neurosteroids. In this regard, the neurosteroid-modulated neurotransmitter systems, such as gamma-aminobutyric acid type A, N-methyl-D-aspartate, and cholinergic and sigma opioid systems, appear to be potential targets for the rapid memory alteration actions of neurosteroids. Moreover, given that some neurosteroids affect neuronal plasticity, this neuronal change could be involved in the long-term modulation of learning and memory processes. To understand the role of endogeneous neurosteroids in learning and memory processes, we present some physiological studies in rodents and humans. However, the latter do not successfully prove a role of endogenous neurosteroids in age-related memory impairments. Finally, we discuss the relative implication of a given neurosteroid vs its metabolites. For this question, a new approach using the quantitative determination of traces of neurosteroids by mass spectrometry seems to have potential for examining the role of each neurosteroid in discrete brain areas in learning and memory alterations, as observed during aging.
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