Current status and future perspectives: TSPO in steroid neuroendocrinology.
The 18-kDa translocator protein (TSPO), also known as the peripheral benzodiazepine receptor, is a transmembrane protein in the outer mitochondrial membrane. TSPO has long been described as being indispensable for mitochondrial cholesterol import that is essential for steroid hormone production. In contrast to this initial proposition, recent experiments reexamining TSPO function have demonstrated that it is not involved in steroidogenesis. This fundamental change has forced a reexamination of the functional interpretations made for TSPO that broadly impacts both basic and clinical research across multiple fields. In this minireview, we recapitulate the key studies from 25 years of TSPO research and concurrently examine their limitations that perhaps led towards the incorrect association of TSPO and steroid hormone production. Although this shift in understanding raises new questions regarding the molecular function of TSPO, these recent developments are poised to have a significant positive impact for research progress in steroid endocrinology.