- midbrain ventral tegmental area
A novel factor of interest for growth/plasticity in the brain is pregnane xenobiotic receptor (PXR). PXR is a liver factor known for its role in xenobiotic clearance and cholesterol metabolism. It is expressed in the brain, suggesting a potential role for plasticity, particularly involving cholesterol-based steroids and neurosteroids. Mating induces synthesis of neurosteroids in the midbrain Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA) of female rodents, as well as other “plastic” regions of the brain, including the hippocampus, that may be involved in the consolidation of the mating experience. Reducing PXR in the VTA attenuates mating-induced biosynthesis of the neurosteroid, 5α-pregnan-3α-ol-20-one (3α,5α-THP). The 18 kDA translocator protein (TSPO) is one rate-limiting factor for 3α,5α-THP neurosteroidogenesis. The hypothesis tested was that PXR is an upstream factor of TSPO for neurosteroidogenesis of 3α,5α-THP in the VTA for lordosis, independent of peripheral glands. First, proestrous rats were administered a TSPO blocker (PK11195) and/or 3α,5α-THP following infusions of PXR antisense oligonucleotides (AS-ODNs) or vehicle to the VTA. Inhibiting TSPO with PK11195 reduced 3α,5α-THP levels in the midbrain and lordosis, an effect that could be reversed with 3α,5α-THP administration, but not AS-ODN+3α,5α-THP. Second, proestrous, ovariectomized (OVX), or ovariectomized/adrenalectomized (OVX/ADX) rats were infused with a TSPO enhancer (FGIN 1-27) subsequent to AS-ODNs or vehicle to the VTA. PXR AS-ODNs blocked actions of FGIN 1–27 for lordosis and 3α,5α-THP levels among proestrous > OVX > OVX/ADX rats. Thus, PXR may be upstream of TSPO, involved in neurosteroidogenesis of 3α,5α-THP in the brain for plasticity. This novel finding of a liver factor involved in behavioral/neural plasticity substantiates future studies investigating factors known for their prominent actions in the peripheral organs, such as the liver, for modulating brain function and its augmentation.