Neurosteroids are a family of compounds that are synthesized in principal excitatory neurons and glial cells, and derive from the transformation of cholesterol into pregnenolone. The most studied neurosteroids-allopregnanolone and allotetrahydrodeoxycorticosterone (THDOC)-are known to modulate GABAA receptor-mediated transmission, thus playing a role in controlling neuronal network excitability. Given the role of GABAA signaling in epileptic disorders, neurosteroids have profound effects on seizure generation and play a role in the development of chronic epileptic conditions (i.e., epileptogenesis).
We review here studies showing the effects induced by neurosteroids on epileptiform synchronization in in vitro brain slices, on epileptic activity in in vivo models, i.e., in animals that were made epileptic with chemoconvulsant treatment, and in epileptic patients.
These studies reveal that neurosteroids can modulate ictogenesis and the occurrence of pathological network activity such as interictal spikes and high-frequency oscillations (80–500 Hz). Moreover, they can delay the onset of spontaneous seizures in animal models of mesial temporal lobe epilepsy.
Overall, this evidence suggests that neurosteroids represent a new target for the treatment of focal epileptic disorders.