The central and peripheral nervous systems have the capacity of synthesizing steroids de novo from cholesterol, the so-called 'neurosteroids'. De novo synthesis of neurosteroids from cholesterol appears to be a conserved property across the subphylum vertebrata. Until recently, it was generally believed that neurosteroids are produced in neurons and glial cells in the central and peripheral nervous systems. However, our recent studies on birds have demonstrated that the pineal gland, an endocrine organ located close to the brain, is an important site of production of neurosteroids de novo from cholesterol. 7α-Hydroxypregnenolone is a major pineal neurosteroid that stimulates locomotor activity of juvenile birds, connecting light-induced gene expression with locomotion. The other major pineal neurosteroid allopregnanolone is involved in Purkinje cell survival by suppressing the activity of caspase-3, a crucial mediator of apoptosis during cerebellar development. This review is an updated summary of the biosynthesis and biological actions of pineal neurosteroids.
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