Neurosteroidogenesis has not been well elucidated due to the very low level of steroidogenic proteins in the brain. Here we report the first demonstration of the neuronal localization of neurosteroidogenic systems as well as the regulation of neurosteroidogenic activity in the adult rat hippocampus. Significant localization of cytochrome P450scc was observed in pyramidal neurons and granule neurons by means of immunohistochemical staining of slices. We also observed the colocalization, in hippocampal neurons, of P450scc with redox partners, hydroxysteroid sulfotransferase and steroidogenic acute regulatory protein. The distributions of astroglial cells and oligodendroglial cells showed very different patterns from that of the P450scc-containing cells. The expression of P450scc, redox partners, the sulfotransferase, and steroidogenic acute regulatory protein was also confirmed by Western blot analysis. The process of active neurosteroidogenesis was stimulated by exposing neurons to N-methyl-D-aspartate. Upon stimulation with N-methyl-D-aspartate, Ca2+ influx through the N-methyl-D-aspartate subtype of glutamate receptors occurred, and significant net production of pregnenolone and pregnenolone sulfate was observed in the hippocampus. This neurosteroid production was considerably suppressed by the addition of antagonists of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors, by Ca2+ depletion, or by the addition of an inhibitor of P450scc. Upon stimulation with N-methyl-D-aspartate, the processing of full-length steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (37-kDa) to the truncated 30-kDa steroidogenic acute regulatory protein was observed. Taken together, these observations imply that hippocampal neurons synthesize neurosteroids. This synthesis may be stimulated and regulated by glutamate-mediated synaptic communication.
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