Endogenous neurosteroids and synthetic neuroactive steroid analogs are among the most potent and efficacious potentiators of the mammalian GABA-A receptor. The compounds interact with one or more sites on the receptor leading to an increase in the channel open probability through a set of changes in the open and closed time distributions. The endogenous neurosteroid allopregnanolone potentiates the α1β2γ2L GABA-A receptor by enhancing the mean duration and prevalence of the longest-lived open time component and by reducing the prevalence of the longest-lived intracluster closed time component. Thus the channel mean open time is increased and the mean closed time duration is decreased, resulting in potentiation of channel function. Some of the other previously characterized neurosteroids and steroid analogs act through similar mechanisms while others affect a subset of these parameters. The steroids modulate the GABA-A receptor through interactions with the membrane-spanning region of the receptor. However, the number of binding sites that mediate the actions of steroids is unclear. We discuss data supporting the notions of a single site vs. multiple sites mediating the potentiating actions of steroids.
- Patch clamp