Neuroactive steroids synthesized in neuronal tissue, referred to as neurosteroids, are implicated in proliferation, differentiation, activity and survival of nerve cells. Neurosteroids are also involved in the control of a number of behavioral, neuroendocrine and metabolic processes such as regulation of food intake, locomotor activity, sexual activity, aggressiveness, anxiety, depression, body temperature and blood pressure. In this article, we summarize the current knowledge regarding the existence, neuroanatomical distribution and biological activity of the enzymes responsible for the biosynthesis of neurosteroids in the brain of vertebrates, and we review the neuronal mechanisms that control the activity of these enzymes. The observation that the activity of key steroidogenic enzymes is finely tuned by various neurotransmitters and neuropeptides strongly suggests that some of the central effects of these neuromodulators may be mediated via the regulation of neurosteroid production.
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