Most photoactivatable compounds suffer from the limitations of the ultraviolet wavelengths that are required for activation. We synthesized a neuroactive steroid analog with a fluorescent (7-nitro-2,1,3-benzoxadiazol-4-yl) amino (NBD) group in the β configuration at the C2 position of (3α,5α)-3-hydroxypregnan-20-one (allopregnanolone, 3α5αP). Light wavelengths (480 nm) that excite compound fluorescence strongly potentiate GABAA receptor function. Potentiation is limited by photodepletion of the receptor-active species. Photopotentiation is long-lived and stereoselective and shows single-channel hallmarks similar to steroid potentiation. Other NBD-conjugated compounds also generate photopotentiation, albeit with lower potency. Thus, photopotentiation does not require a known ligand for neurosteroid potentiating sites on the GABA A receptor. Photoactivation of a membrane-impermeant, fluorescent steroid analog demonstrates that membrane localization is critical for activity. The photoactivatable steroid silences pathological spiking in cultured rat hippocampal neurons and anesthetizes tadpoles. Fluorescent steroids photoactivated by visible light may be useful for modulating GABAA receptor function in a spatiotemporally defined manner.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)523-530
Number of pages8
JournalNature neuroscience
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2007


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