Progesterone and neurotransmitters: the under-recognized relationship

The NEI Connection

Hormones and the nervous system are linked in ways that may not be obvious. In recent weeks, we’ve explored the connections between estrogen and serotonin and testosterone and dopamine. Progesterone is another hormone that has many implications in the nervous system.

Normally, progesterone is recognized for its role in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle (Figure 1). During the luteal phase, progesterone levels increase, signaling an egg has been released from the ovary. However, the increase in progesterone has effects beyond reproduction. The luteal rise of progesterone is thought to be the cause of many pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms including bloating and irritability and when progesterone levels decline, anxiety and insomnia become more common. This occurs because progesterone has a calming effect.

Progesterone’s calming effect is due to its metabolite allopregnanolone, which enhances GABAA receptor activity1. gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a calming neurotransmitter. Poor…

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