Positive γ-aminobutyric acid(A) (GABA(A)) modulators acting at different binding sites often produce similar behavioral effects; however, their effects are not identical. Actions of neuroactive steroids at other receptors, in addition to GABA(A) receptors, might account for some differences between neuroactive steroids and other positive modulators, like benzodiazepines.
Multiple mechanisms of other drugs (e.g., ethanol) have been elucidated by comparing their discriminative stimulus effects across different training doses; the current study used that approach to examine the mechanisms of action of the neuroactive steroid pregnanolone.
Separate groups of rats (n = 6-8/group) discriminated pregnanolone from vehicle while responding under a fixed-ratio 10 schedule of food presentation. Two groups initially discriminated 3.2 mg/kg; once stimulus control was established, the training dose was systematically decreased to 1.33 mg/kg in one group and increased to 7.5 mg/kg in the other group. Other rats discriminated either 1.33 or 7.5 mg/kg without training at another dose.
Stimulus control was established in 24-28 sessions in all groups. Positive GABA(A) modulators produced ≥80 % pregnanolone-lever responding, regardless of training dose; rank-order potency was flunitrazepam > midazolam > pregnanolone = pentobarbital. Ethanol produced some drug-lever responding (42 %) only in rats discriminating 1.33 mg/kg, whereas the N-methyl-D: -aspartate receptor antagonist ketamine and the serotonin receptor agonist 1-(m-chlorophenyl)-biguanide occasioned predominantly vehicle-lever responding in all rats.
There was little difference in discriminative stimulus effects of pregnanolone across different training conditions, confirming a predominant, if not exclusive, role of GABA(A) receptors in these effects of pregnanolone.