Mounting experimental evidence demonstrate that sex neuroactive steroids (neurosteroids) are essential for memory formation. Neurosteroids have a profound impact on the function and structure of neural circuits and their local synthesis is necessary for the induction of both long-term potentiation (LTP) and long-term depression (LTD) of synaptic transmission and for neural spine formation in different areas of the central nervous system (CNS). Several studies demonstrated that in the hippocampus, 17β-estradiol (E2) is necessary for inducing LTP, while 5α-dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is necessary for inducing LTD. This contribution has been proven by administering sex neurosteroids in rodent models and by using blocking agents of their synthesis or of their specific receptors. The general opposite role of sex neurosteroids in synaptic plasticity appears to be dependent on their different local availability in response to low or high frequency of synaptic stimulation, allowing the induction of bidirectional synaptic plasticity. The relevant contribution of these neurosteroids to synaptic plasticity has also been described in other brain regions involved in memory processes such as motor learning, as in the case of the vestibular nuclei, the cerebellum, and the basal ganglia, or as the emotional circuit of the amygdala. The rapid effects of sex neurosteroids on neural synaptic plasticity need the maintenance of a tonic or phasic local steroid synthesis determined by neural activity but might also be influenced by circulating hormones, age, and gender. To disclose the exact mechanisms how sex neurosteroids participate in finely tuning long-term synaptic changes and spine remodeling, further investigation is required.
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