Multifunctional aspects of allopregnanolone in stress and related disorders.
The distribution of the 5 alpha-reductase, the enzyme which converts testosterone into its 'active' metabolite dihydrotestosterone (DHT), has been studied in neurons, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes isolated from the brain of male rats by density gradient ultracentrifugation and in neurons and glial cells grown in cultures. Purity of cellular preparations was examined by electron and light microscopy. Purified neurons, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes, obtained from the brain of adult male rats, are all able to form DHT from testosterone and consequently possess a 5 alpha-reductase activity. Among the 3 cell types studied, neurons appear to be more active than oligodendrocytes and astrocytes. Moreover, between the two population of glial cells, the oligodendrocytes seem to possess a slightly higher enzymatic activity than that present in the astrocytes. Neurons appeared more active in metabolizing testosterone than glial cells also in cell culture experiments. It is presently believed that the 5 alpha-reduction of testosterone to DHT provides one of the mechanisms through which the hormone becomes effective in the CNS. This is supported by the present findings, which indicate that neurons are the cell population in which the 5 alpha-reductase is more concentrated. However, the presence of a considerable 5 alpha-reductase activity in glial cells indicates that also non-neuronal cells might participate in androgen-mediated events occurring in the brain.