BACKGROUND: Neurosteroids have various physiological and neuropsychopharmacological effects. In addition to the genomic effects of steroids, some neurosteroids modulate several neurotransmitter receptors and channels, such as N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors, gamma-aminobutyric acid type A (GABA(A)) receptors, and sigma(1) receptors, and voltage-gated Ca(2+) and K(+) channels. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying the various effects of neurosteroids have not yet been sufficiently clarified. In the nervous system, inwardly rectifying K(+) (Kir) channels also play important roles in the control of resting membrane potential, cellular excitability and K(+) homeostasis. Among constitutively active Kir2 channels in a major Kir subfamily, Kir2.3 channels are expressed predominantly in the... forebrain, a brain area related to cognition, memory, emotion, and neuropsychiatric disorders. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: The present study examined the effects of various neurosteroids on Kir2.3 channels using the Xenopus oocyte expression assay. In oocytes injected with Kir2.3 mRNA, only pregnenolone sulfate (PREGS), among nine neurosteroids tested, reversibly potentiated Kir2.3 currents. The potentiation effect was concentration-dependent in the micromolar range, and the current-voltage relationship showed inward rectification. However, the potentiation effect of PREGS was not observed when PREGS was applied intracellularly and was not affected by extracellular pH conditions. Furthermore, although Kir1.1, Kir2.1, Kir2.2, and Kir3 channels were insensitive to PREGS, in oocytes injected with Kir2.1/Kir2.3 or Kir2.2/Kir2.3 mRNA, but not Kir2.1/Kir2.2 mRNA, PREGS potentiated Kir currents. These potentiation properties in the concentration-response relationships were less potent than for Kir2.3 channels, suggesting action of PREGS on Kir2.3-containing Kir2 heteromeric channels. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: The present results suggest that PREGS acts as a positive modulator of Kir2.3 channels. Kir2.3 channel potentiation may provide novel insights into the various effects of PREGS.