Neurosteroids and translocator protein 18 kDa (TSPO) in depression: implications for synaptic plasticity, cognition, and treatment options

Rainer Rupprecht, Arpit Kumar Pradhan, Marco Kufner, Lisa Marie Brunner, Caroline Nothdurfter, Simon Wein, Jens Schwarzbach, Xenia Puig, Christian Rupprecht, Gerhard Rammes

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


There is need for novel fast acting treatment options in affective disorders. 3α-reduced neurosteroids such as allopregnanolone are powerful positive allosteric modulators of GABAA receptors and target also extrasynaptic receptors. Their synthesis is mediated by the translocator protein 18 kDa (TSPO). TSPO ligands not only promote endogenous neurosteroidogenesis, but also exert a broad spectrum of functions involving modulation of mitochondrial activity and acting as anti-inflammatory and neuroregenerative agents. Besides affective symptoms, in depression cognitive impairment can be frequently observed, which may be ameliorated through targeting of extrasynaptic GABAA receptors either via TSPO ligands or exogenously administered 3α-reduced neurosteroids. Interestingly, recent findings indicate an enhanced activation of the complement system, e.g., enhanced expression of C1q, both in depression and dementia. It is of note that benzodiazepines have been shown to reduce long-term potentiation and to cause cognitive decline. Intriguingly, TSPO may be crucial in mediating the effects of benzodiazepines on synaptic pruning. Here, we discuss how benzodiazepines and TSPO may interfere with synaptic pruning. Moreover, we highlight recent developments of TSPO ligands and 3α-reduced neurosteroids as therapeutic agents. Etifoxine is the only clinically available TSPO ligand so far and has been studied in anxiety disorders. Regarding 3α-reduced neurosteroids, brexanolone, an intravenous formulation of allopregnanolone, has been approved for the treatment of postpartum depression and zuranolone, an orally available 3α-reduced neurosteroid, is currently being studied in major depressive disorder and postpartum depression. As such, 3α-reduced neurosteroids and TSPO ligands may constitute promising treatment approaches for affective disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1477-1487
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 2023


  • Depression
  • Inflammation
  • Neurosteroids
  • TSPO
  • Treatment


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