Disease stage-dependent changes in brain levels and neuroprotective effects of neuroactive steroids in Parkinson's disease

Sabina Luchetti, Philippe Liere, Antoine Pianos, Ronald W H Verwer, Arja Sluiter, Inge Huitinga, Michael Schumacher, Dick F Swaab, Matthew R J Mason

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Neuroactive steroids are known neuroprotective agents and neurotransmitter regulators. We previously found that expression of the enzymes synthesizing 5α-dihydroprogesterone (5α-DHP), allopregnanolone (ALLO), and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) were reduced in the substantia nigra (SN) of Parkinson's Disease (PD) brain. Here, concentrations of a comprehensive panel of steroids were measured in human post-mortem brains of PD patients and controls. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC/MS) was used to measure steroid levels in SN (involved in early symptoms) and prefrontal cortex (PFC) (involved later in the disease) of five control (CTR) and nine PD donors, divided into two groups: PD4 (PD-Braak stages 1-4) and PD6 (PD-Braak stages 5-6). In SN, ALLO was increased in PD4 compared to CTR and 5α-DHP and ALLO levels were diminished in PD6 compared to PD4. The ALLO metabolite 3α5α20α-hexahydroprogesterone (3α5α20α-HHP) was higher in PD4 compared to CTR. In PFC, 3α5α20α-HHP was higher in PD4 compared to both CTR and PD6. The effects of 5α-DHP, ALLO and DHEAS were tested on human post-mortem brain slices of patients and controls in culture. RNA expression of genes involved in neuroprotection, neuroinflammation and neurotransmission was analysed after 5 days of incubation with each steroid. In PD6 slices, both 5α-DHP and ALLO induced an increase of the glutamate reuptake effector GLAST1, while 5α-DHP also increased gene expression of the neuroprotective TGFB. In CTR slices, ALLO caused reduced expression of IGF1 and GLS, while DHEAS reduced the expression of p75 and the anti-apoptotic molecule APAF1. Together these data suggest that a potentially protective upregulation of ALLO occurs at early stages of PD, followed by a downregulation of progesterone metabolites at later stages that may exacerbate the pathological changes, especially in SN. Neuroprotective effects of neurosteroids are thus dependent on the neuropathological stage of the disease.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106169
JournalNeurobiology of Disease
Publication statusPublished - 29 May 2023


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