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LE Magazine June 2004

Sex-and age-related changes in epitestosterone in relation to pregnenolone sulfate and testosterone in normal subjects.
Epitestosterone has been demonstrated to act at various levels as a weak antiandrogen. So far, its serum levels have been followed up only in males. Epitestosterone and its major circulating precursor pregnenolone sulfate and T were measured in serum from 211 healthy women and 386 men to find out whether serum concentrations of epitestosterone are sufficient to exert its antiandrogenic actions. In women, epitestosterone exhibited a maximum around 20 yr of age, followed by a continuous decline up to menopause and by a further increase in the postmenopause. In men, maximum epitestosterone levels were detected at around 35 yr of age, followed by a continuous decrease. Pregnenolone sulfate levels in women reached their maximum at about age 32 yr and then declined continuously, and in males the maximum was reached about 5 yr earlier and then remained nearly constant. Epitestosterone correlated with pregnenolone sulfate only in males. In both sexes a sharp decrease of the epitestosterone/T ratio around puberty occurred. In conclusion, concentrations of epitestosterone and pregnenolone sulfate are age dependent and, at least in prepubertal boys and girls, epitestosterone reaches or even exceeds the concentrations of T, thus supporting its role as an endogenous antiandrogen. The dissimilarities in the course of epitestosterone levels through the lifespan of men and women and its relation to pregnenolone sulfate concentrations raise the question of the contribution of the adrenals and gonads to the production of both steroids and even to the uniformity of the mechanism of epitestosterone formation.

J Clin Endocrinol Metab . 2002 May;87(5):2225-31

Sex steroids and 5-en-3 beta-hydroxysteroids in specific regions of the human brain and cranial nerves.
Sex steroids and 5-en-3 beta-hydroxysteroids were determined by radioimmunoassay in specific regions of the human brain, in the anterior and posterior pituitary, in one sensory organ, the retina and in the cranial nerves. Progesterone, androstenedione, testosterone and estrone were found in all areas of the brain and in all the cranial nerves but not in all cases. There was no sex difference except in the case of androstenedione where values were higher in women in some brain areas. Estrone values were always higher than those of estradiol in both men and women. No 5 alpha-dihydrotestosterone was detected in any of the samples studied. The values for pregnenolone, dehydroepiandrosterone and their sulfates were much higher than those of the sex steroids in all areas of the brain and in all the cranial nerves. Values for pregnenolone were greater than those of its sulfate while those of dehydroepiandrosterone were in general equal to or higher than those of its sulfate. The values for pregnenolone were greater than those of dehydroepiandrosterone. There were no obvious regional differences in the concentrations of the 5-en-3 beta-hydroxysteroids either in specific areas of the brain or in the cranial nerves. But there was a definite trend for the free dehydroepiandrosterone values to be higher in women. The possible significance of these observations is discussed.

J Steroid Biochem . 1986 Sep;25(3):445-9

Individual differences in cognitive aging: implication of pregnenolone sulfate.
In humans and animals, individual differences in aging of cognitive functions are classically reported. Some old individuals exhibit performances similar to those of young subjects while others are severely impaired. In senescent animals, we have previously demonstrated a significant correlation between the cognitive performance and the cerebral concentration of a neurosteroid, the pregnenolone sulfate (PREG-S).Neurotransmitter systems modulated by this neurosteroid were unknown until our recent report of an enhancement of acetylcholine (ACh) release in basolateral amygdala, cortex and hippocampus induced by intracerebroventricular (i.c.v.) or intracerebral administrations of PREG-S. Central ACh neurotransmission is known to be involved in the regulation of memory processes and is affected in normal aging and severely altered in human neurodegenerative pathologies like Alzheimer's disease.In the central nervous system, ACh neurotransmission is also involved in the modulation of sleep-wakefulness cycle, and particularly the paradoxical sleep (PS). Relationships between paradoxical sleep and memory are documented in the literature in old animals in which the spatial memory performance positively correlates with the basal amounts of paradoxical sleep. PREG-S infused at the level of ACh cell bodies (nucleus basalis magnocellularis, NBM, or pedunculopontine nucleus, PPT) increases paradoxical sleep in young animals.Finally, aging related cognitive dysfunctions, particularly those observed in Alzheimer's disease, have also been related to alterations of mechanisms underlying cerebral plasticity. Amongst these mechanisms, neurogenesis has been extensively studied recently. Our data demonstrate that PREG-S central infusions dramatically increase neurogenesis, this effect could be related to the negative modulator properties of this steroid at the GABA(A) receptor level.Taken together these data suggest that neurosteroids can influence cognitive processes, particularly in senescent subjects, through a modulation of ACh neurotransmission associated with paradoxical sleep modifications; furthermore, our recent data suggest a critical role for neurosteroids in the modulation of cerebral plasticity, mainly on hippocampal neurogenesis.

Prog Neurobiol . 2003 Sep;71(1):43-8

GABA--the quintessential neurotransmitter: electroneutrality, fidelity, specificity, and a model for the ligand binding site of GABAA receptors.
Alone of the known neurotransmitters, GABA is an electroneutral zwitterion (pI = 7.3) at physiological pH. This confers the highest probability of successfully traversing densely packed synaptic gaps without interacting electrostatically with charged entities enroute, making GABA a high fidelity neurotransmitter. Inhibitory tone in the nervous system is coordinately coupled with physiological activity by means of the GABA system, acidification increasing GABA formation and its Cl- channel-opening efficacy, while decreasing its removal by transport and metabolic degradation. The above, together with diminution upon acidification of the postsynaptic efficacy of glutamate on excitatory NMDA receptors constitutes a sensitively responsive mechanism by which protons control levels of neural activity, locally and globally. A model made of the GABA binding site of GABAA receptors based on H-bond and hydrophobic interactions makes it seem unlikely that any other substance known to occur in nerve tissue would give rise to a high noise level at GABAA receptors.

Neurochem Res . 1993 Apr;18(4):365-76

The neurosteroid pregnenolone sulfate increases cortical acetylcholine release: a microdialysis study in freely moving rats.
The effects of pregnenolone sulfate (Preg-S) administrations (0, 12, 48, 96, and 192 nmol intracerebroventricularly) on acetylcholine (ACh) release in the frontal cortex and dorsal striatum were investigated by on-line microdialysis in freely moving rats. Following Preg-S administration, extracellular ACh levels in the frontal cortex increased in a dose-dependent manner, whereas no change was observed in the striatum. The highest doses (96 and 192 nmol) induced a threefold increase above control values of ACh release, the intermediate dose of 48 nmol led to a twofold increase, whereas after the dose of 12 nmol, the levels of ACh were not different from those observed after vehicle injection. The increase in cortical ACh reached a maximum 30 min after administration for all the active doses. Taken together, these results suggest that Preg-S interacts with the cortical cholinergic system, which may account, at least in part, for the promnesic and/or antiamnesic properties of this neurosteroid.

J Neurochem . 1998 Nov;71(5):2018-22

Neurosteroids: deficient cognitive performance in aged rats depends on low pregnenolone sulfate levels in the hippocampus.
Pregnenolone sulfate (PREG S) is synthesized in the nervous system and is a major neurosteroid in the rat brain. Its concentrations were measured in the hippocampus and other brain areas of single adult and aged (22-24 month-old) male Sprague-Dawley rats. Significantly lower levels were found in aged rats, although the values were widely scattered and reached, in about half the animals, the same range as those of young ones. The spatial memory performances of aged rats were investigated in two different spatial memory tasks, the Morris water maze and Y-maze. Performances in both tests were significantly correlated and, accompanied by appropriate controls, likely evaluated genuine memory function. Importantly, individual hippocampal PREG S and distance to reach the platform in the water maze were linked by a significant correlation, i.e., those rats with lower memory deficit had the highest PREG S levels, whereas no relationship was found with the PREG S content in other brain areas (amygdala, prefrontal cortex, parietal cortex, striatum). Moreover, the memory deficit of cognitively impaired aged rats was transiently corrected after either intraperitoneal or bilateral intrahippocampal injection of PREG S. PREG S is both a gamma-aminobutyric acid antagonist and a positive allosteric modulator at the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor, and may reinforce neurotransmitter system(s) that decline with age. Indeed, intracerebroventricular injection of PREG S was shown to stimulate acetylcholine release in the adult rat hippocampus. In conclusion, it is proposed that the hippocampal content of PREG S plays a physiological role in preserving and/or enhancing cognitive abilities in old animals, possibly via an interaction with central cholinergic systems. Thus, neurosteroids should be further studied in the context of prevention and/or treatment of age-related memory disorders.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1997 Dec 23;94(26):14865-70

Role of pregnenolone, dehydroepiandrosterone and their sulfate esters on learning and memory in cognitive aging.
Aging is a general process of functional decline which involves in particular a decline of cognitive abilities. However, the severity of this decline differs from one subject to another and inter-individual differences have been reported in humans and animals. These differences are of great interest especially as concerns investigation of the neurobiological factors involved in cognitive aging. Intensive pharmacological studies suggest that neurosteroids, which are steroids synthesized in the brain in an independent manner from peripheral steroid sources, could be involved in learning and memory processes. This review summarizes data in animals and humans in favor of a role of neurosteroids in cognitive aging. Studies in animals demonstrated that the neurosteroids pregnenolone (PREG) and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), as sulfate derivatives (PREGS and DHEAS, respectively), display memory-enhancing properties in aged rodents. Moreover, it was recently shown that memory performance was correlated with PREGS levels in the hippocampus of 24-month-old rats. Human studies, however, have reported contradictory results. First, improvement of learning and memory dysfunction was found after DHEA administration to individuals with low DHEAS levels, but other studies failed to detect significant cognitive effects after DHEA administration. Second, cognitive dysfunctions have been associated with low DHEAS levels, high DHEAS levels, or high DHEA levels; while in other studies, no relationship was found. As future research perspectives, we propose the use of new methods of quantification of neurosteroids as a useful tool for understanding their respective role in improving learning and memory impairments associated with normal aging and/or with pathological aging, such as Alzheimer's disease.

Brain Res Brain Res Rev . 2001 Nov;37(1-3):301-12

The neurosteroid pregnenolone sulfate infused into the medial septum nucleus increases hippocampal acetylcholine and spatial memory in rats.
The effects of an infusion of the neurosteroid pregnenolone sulfate into the medial septum on acetylcholine release in the hippocampus and on spatial memory were evaluated in two experiments. Results show that pregnenolone sulfate enhanced acetylcholine release by more than 50% of baseline and improved recognition memory of a familiar environment. Therefore, our results suggest that the septo-hippocampal pathway could be involved in the promnesic properties of this neurosteroid.

Brain Res . 2002 Oct 4;951(2):237-42

Pregnenolone sulfate and aging of cognitive functions: behavioral, neurochemical, and morphological investigations.
Neurosteroids are a subclass of steroids that can be synthesized in the central nervous system independently of peripheral sources. Several neurosteroids influence cognitive functions. Indeed, in senescent animals we have previously demonstrated a significant correlation between the cerebral concentration of pregnenolone sulfate (PREG-S) and cognitive performance. Indeed, rats with memory impairments exhibited low PREG-S concentrations compared to animals with correct memory performance. Furthermore, these memory deficits can be reversed by intracerebral infusions of PREG-S. Neurotransmitter systems modulated by this neurosteroid were unknown until our recent report of an enhancement of acetylcholine (ACh) release in basolateral amygdala, cortex, and hippocampus induced by central administrations of PREG-S. Central ACh neurotransmission is involved in the regulation of memory processes and is affected in normal aging and in human neurodegenerative pathologies like Alzheimer's disease. ACh neurotransmission is also involved in the modulation of sleep-wakefulness cycle and relationships between paradoxical sleep and memory are well documented in the literature. PREG-S infused at the level of ACh cell bodies induces a dramatic increase of paradoxical sleep in young animals. Cognitive dysfunctions, particularly those observed in Alzheimer's disease, have also been related to alterations of cerebral plasticity. Among these mechanisms, neurogenesis has been recently studied. Preliminary data suggest that PREG-S central infusions dramatically increase neurogenesis. Taken together these data suggest that PREG-S can influence cognitive processes, particularly in senescent subjects, through a modulation of ACh neurotransmission associated with paradoxical sleep modifications; furthermore our recent data suggest a role for neurosteroids in the modulation of hippocampal neurogenesis.

Horm Behav . 2001 Sep;40(2):215-7

CSF neuroactive steroids in affective disorders: pregnenolone, progesterone, and DBI.
Recently several steroid compounds have been discovered to act as neuromodulators in diverse central nervous system (CNS) functions. We wondered if neuroactive steroids might be involved in affective illness or in the mode of action of mood-regulating medications such as carbamazepine. Levels of the neuroactive steroids pregnenolone and progesterone, as well as the neuropeptide diazepam binding inhibitor (DBI) (known to promote steroidogenesis), were analyzed from cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) obtained by lumbar puncture (LP) from 27 medication-free subjects with affective illness and 10 healthy volunteers. Mood-disordered subjects who were clinically depressed at the time of the LP had lower CSF pregnenolone (n = 9, 0.16 ng/ml) compared with euthymic volunteers (n = 10, 0.35 ng/ml; p < 0.01). In addition, pregnenolone was lower in all affectively ill subjects (n = 26, 0.21 ng/ml), regardless of mood state on the LP day, than healthy volunteers (p < 0.05). No differences were found for progesterone or DBI levels by mood state or diagnosis. Progesterone, pregnenolone, and DBI did not change significantly or consistently in affectively ill subjects after treatment with carbamazepine. CSF pregnenolone is decreased in subjects with affective illness, particularly during episodes of active depression. Further research into the role of neuroactive steroids in mood regulation is warranted.

Biol Psychiatry . 1994 May 15;35(10):775-80

Low pregnenolone sulphate plasma concentrations in patients with generalized social phobia.
BACKGROUND: Animal studies have shown that neuroactive steroids modulate the activity of the gamma-aminobutyric acid type A/benzodiazepine receptor complex and that these steroids display anxiolytic or anxiogenic activity depending on their positive (e.g. allopregnanolone) or negative allosteric modulation (e.g. dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate) of this receptor. This study compared plasma levels of allopregnanolone, dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate and pregnenolone sulphate in healthy controls and in patients with generalized social phobia, as assessed with the Mini-International Neuropsychiatric Interview. METHODS: Plasma concentrations of allopregnanolone, pregnenolone sulphate, and dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate were measured in 12 unmedicated male patients with generalized social phobia and 12 matched healthy male volunteers. RESULTS: Concentrations of pregnenolone sulphate were significantly lower in patients with generalized social phobia than in healthy controls. No statistically significant differences were found for the concentrations of allopregnanolone and dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate in plasma. CONCLUSIONS: These results are particularly interesting since we also observed lower pregnenolone sulphate concentrations in male patients suffering from generalized anxiety disorder. Their relevance to the pathophysiology of social anxiety disorder remains to be determined.

Psychol Med . 2002 Jul;32(5):929-33

Key role for pregnenolone in combination therapy that promotes recovery after spinal cord injury.
Controlled compressive injury to rat spinal cord was chosen to test therapies that might attenuate the progression of tissue destruction and locomotor deficits that characteristically occur after spinal injury. A highly significant reduction of damage was achieved by immediate postinjury treatment with a combination of the following: an antiinflammatory substance, indomethacin; a stimulator of cytokine secretion, bacterial lipopolysaccharide; and the parent steroid, from which all other steroids arise, pregnenolone. This treatment reduced histopathological changes, spared tissue from secondary injury, and increased restoration of motor function. Remarkably, 11 of 16 of the animals treated with the above combination were able to stand and walk at 21 days after injury, 4 of them almost normally. The results were far superior to those obtained in controls or in animals to which the substances were given separately or in combination of two. This approach may prove to be applicable to nervous system injury, in general, and to injury in other tissues.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1994 Dec 6;91(25):12308-12