Intranasal Allopregnanolone Confers Rapid Seizure Protection: Evidence for Direct Nose-to-Brain Delivery

Dorota Zolkowska, Chun Yi Wu, Michael A. Rogawski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Allopregnanolone, a positive modulator of GABAA receptors with antiseizure activity, has potential in the treatment of seizure emergencies. Instillation of allopregnanolone in 40% sulfobutylether-β-cyclodextrin into the nose in mice rapidly elevated the seizure threshold in the timed intravenous pentylenetetrazol (ED50, 5.6 mg/kg), picrotoxin (ED50, 5.9 mg/kg), and bicuculline seizure tests. The effect peaked at 15 min, decayed over 1 h, and was still evident in some experiments at 6 h. Intranasal allopregnanolone also delayed the onset of seizures in the maximal PTZ test. At an allopregnanolone dose (16 mg/kg) that conferred comparable effects on seizure threshold as the benzodiazepines midazolam and diazepam (both at doses of 1 mg/kg), allopregnanolone caused minimal sedation or motor toxicity in the horizontal screen test whereas both benzodiazepines produced marked behavioral impairment. In addition, intranasal allopregnanolone failed to cause loss-of-righting reflex in most animals, but when the same dose was administered intramuscularly, all animals became impaired. Intranasal allopregnanolone (10 mg/kg) caused a rapid increase in brain allopregnanolone with a Tmax of ~5 min after initiation of the intranasal delivery. High levels of allopregnanolone were recovered in the olfactory bulb (Cmax, 16,000 ng/mg) whereas much lower levels (Cmax, 670 ng/mg) were present in the remainder of the brain. We conclude that the unique ability of intranasal allopregnanolone to protect against seizures without inducing behavioral adverse effects is due in part to direct nose-to-brain delivery, with preferential transport to brain regions relevant to seizures. Benzodiazepines are commonly administered intranasally for acute seizure therapy, including for the treatment of acute repetitive seizures, but are not transported from nose-to-brain. Intranasal allopregnanolone acts with greater speed, has less propensity for adverse effects, and has the ability to overcome benzodiazepine refractoriness. This is the first study demonstrating rapid functional central nervous system activity of a nose-to-brain-delivered steroid. Intranasal delivery circumvents the poor oral bioavailability of allopregnanolone providing a route of administration permitting its evaluation as a treatment for diverse neuropsychiatric indications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StateAccepted/In press - 2021


  • Allopregnanolone
  • Intranasal delivery
  • Neuroactive steroid
  • Nose-to-brain
  • Pharmacokinetics
  • Seizure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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