Pregnancy is associated with changes in mood and anxiety level as well as with marked hormonal fluctuations. Increases in the brain concentrations of neuroactive steroids during pregnancy in rats are accompanied by changes in expression of subunits of the GABA type A receptor (GABA(A)-R) in the brain. Granule cells of the dentate gyrus (DGGCs) exhibit two components of inhibitory GABAergic transmission: a phasic component mediated by synapticGABA(A)-Rs, and a tonic component mediated by extrasynapticGABA(A)-Rs. Recordings of GABAergic currents were obtained from hippocampal slices prepared from rats in estrus, at pregnancy day 15 (P15) or P19, or at 2 d after delivery. Exogenous GABA or 3 alpha,5 alpha-THP induced an increase in tonic current in DGGCs that was significantly greater at P19 than in estrus. Neither tonic nor phasic currents were affected by pregnancy in CA1 pyramidal cells. Immunohistochemical analysis revealed a marked increase in the abundance of the delta subunit of the GABA(A)-R and a concomitant decrease in that of the gamma(2) subunit in the hippocampus at P19. Expression of the alpha(4) subunit did not change during pregnancy but was increased 2 d after delivery. Treatment of rats from P12 to P18 with the 5 alpha-reductase inhibitor finasteride prevented the changes in tonic current and in delta and gamma(2) subunit expression normally apparent at P19. These data suggest that the number of extrasynaptic GABA(A)-Rs is increased in DGGCs during late pregnancy as a consequence of the associated marked fluctuations in the brain levels of neuroactive steroids
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