Steroids influence neuronal function by binding to intracellular receptors that can act as transcription factors and regulate gene expression. In addition, some so-called 'neuroactive steroids' are potent modulators of an array of ligand-gated ion channels and of distinct G-protein coupled receptors via nongenomic mechanisms, and they can influence sleep and memory. This article describes how these neuroactive steroids modulate neurotransmitter receptors and addresses the neuropsychopharmacological potential that arises from the intracellular crosstalk between genomic and nongenomic steroid effects. Neuroactive steroids could also have a role in the response to stress and the treatment of psychiatric disorders, such as depression, and, as they affect a broad spectrum of behavioral functions through their unique molecular properties, they could constitute a yet unexploited class of drugs.
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