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Sex hormone metabolite reduces stress, anxiety in female rats

ATLANTA-- A steroid hormone released during the metabolism of progesterone, the female sex hormone, reduces the brain's response to stress, according to research in rats by scientists at Emory University School of Medicine, the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and Atlanta's Center for Behavioral Neuroscience. The scientists found evidence that the progesterone metabolite allopregnanolone reduces the brain's response to corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), a peptide hormone that plays an important role in the stress response in animals. The finding, which was reported in the Nov. 10, 2004 edition of the Journal of Neuroscience, could provide a new drug target for treating anxiety and depression in women.

In the study, Emory researchers Donna Toufexis, PhD, Michael Davis, PhD and Carrie Davis, BS, and Alexis Hammond, BS, of Spelman College, compared how female rats with different levels of the sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone, reacted to loud noises after injections of CRF into the brain's lateral ventricles. CRF injections usually increase the "acoustic startle response" in this test used to gauge stress and anxiety, a phenomenon called CRF-enhanced startle.

In the first experiment, the scientists compared acoustic startle responses after CRF injection in an estrogen-only group, an estrogen-plus-progesterone group and a control group that did not receive any sex hormones. All the rats lacked ovaries and the ability to produce sex hormones naturally. Acoustic startle response was unaffected in the estrogen-only group and the control group. In the estrogen-plus-progesterone group, however, CRF-enhanced startle was significantly lower than in the other groups.

In another set of experiments, the researchers discovered that lactating female rats with naturally high levels of progesterone had markedly lower CRF-enhanced startle responses compared to virgin females with intact ovaries. "Findings from theses initial experiments point
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Contact: Holly Korschun
hkorsch@emory.edu
404-727-3990
Emory University Health Sciences Center
8-Feb-2005


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