1. Neuroactive steroids are steroid hormones that exert rapid, nongenomic effects at ligand-gated ion channels. There is increasing awareness of the possible role of these steroids in the pathology and manifestation of symptoms of psychiatric disorders. The aim of this paper is to review the current knowledge of neuroactive steroid functioning in the central nervous system, and to assess the role of neuroactive steroids in the pathophysiology and treatment of symptoms of schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety disorders. Particular emphasis will be placed on GABA(A) receptor modulation, given the extensive knowledge of the interactions between this receptor complex, neuroactive steroids, and psychiatric illness. 2. A brief description of neuroactive steroid metabolism is followed by a discussion of the interactions of neuroactive steroids with acute and chronic stress and the HPA axis. Preclinical and clinical studies related to psychiatric disorders that have been conducted on neuroactive steroids are also described. 3. Plasma concentrations of some neuroactive steroids are altered in individuals suffering from schizophrenia, depression, or anxiety disorders compared to values in healthy controls. Some drugs used to treat these disorders have been reported to alter plasma and brain concentrations in clinical and preclinical studies, respectively. 4. Further research is warranted into the role of neuroactive steroids in the pathophysiology of psychiatric illnesses and the possible role of these steroids in the successful treatment of these disorders.
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