Neuroactive steroids attenuate oxytocin stress responses in late pregnancy

J A Russell, P J Brunton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In late pregnant rats neuroendocrine stress responses, expressed as increased oxytocin secretion and activation of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis, are attenuated. These adaptations preserve the oxytocin store for parturition and prevent pre-term birth, and protect the fetuses from adverse programming by exposure to excess glucocorticoid. Mechanisms of adaptations for oxytocin neurones are reviewed, using challenge with systemic interleukin-1beta, simulating activation of immune signaling by infection, as a stressor of special relevance in pregnancy. In virgin rats, systemic interleukin-1beta stimulates the firing of oxytocin neurones, and hence oxytocin secretion, but interleukin-1beta has no effects in late pregnant rats. This lack of response is reversed by naloxone treatment just before interleukin-1beta administration, indicating endogenous opioid suppression of oxytocin responses in late pregnancy. This opioid presynaptically inhibits noradrenergic terminals impinging on oxytocin neurones. Finasteride pretreatment, inhibiting progesterone conversion to allopregnanolone, a positive GABA(A) receptor allosteric modifier, also restores an oxytocin response to interleukin-1beta. This finasteride effect is reversed by allopregnanolone treatment. In virgin rats allopregnanolone attenuates the oxytocin response to interleukin-1beta, which is exaggerated by naloxone. The effects of naloxone and finasteride in late pregnant rats in restoring an oxytocin response to interleukin-1beta are not additive. Accordingly, allopregnanolone may both enhance GABA inhibition of oxytocin neurone responses to interleukin-1beta, and induce opioid suppression of noradrenaline release onto oxytocin neurones.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)879-89
Number of pages11
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • Animals
  • Female
  • Models, Animal
  • Oxytocin
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Animal
  • Rats
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Steroids
  • Stress, Physiological


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