Recent work found that lower endogenous levels of the gamma-aminobutyric acid-agonist, neuroactive steroid 3alpha-hydroxy-5alpha-pregnan-20-one (3alpha,5alpha-THP) may be correlated with increased ethanol withdrawal severity in the selectively bred Withdrawal Seizure-Prone and -Resistant mice. The present studies were conducted to determine whether decreased sensitivity to 3alpha,5alpha-THP was correlated with ethanol withdrawal hyperexcitability in another genetic mouse model, namely the C57BL/6 (B6) and DBA/2 (D2) inbred strains. These strains also differ in ethanol withdrawal severity (D2 > B6). B6 and D2 male mice were injected with 3alpha,5alpha-THP (0-10 mg/kg i.p.) 15 min before the timed tail vein infusion of pentylenetetrazol. B6 mice were more sensitive than D2 animals to the anticonvulsant effect of 3alpha,5alpha-THP. Subsequent studies measured sensitivity to several of the pharmacological effects of 3alpha,5alpha-THP. B6 and D2 male mice were injected with 3alpha,5alpha-THP (0-32 mg/kg) before testing for locomotor activation (total number of entries) and anxiolysis (percent open arm entries) on the elevated plus maze, muscle relaxation (impairment of forelimb grip strength), ataxia (impairment of Rotarod performance) and seizure susceptibility to pentylenetetrazol. B6 mice were more sensitive than D2 animals to the anxiolytic, locomotor stimulant and anticonvulsant effects of 3alpha,5alpha-THP. In contrast, D2 mice were more sensitive than B6 mice to 3alpha,5alpha-THP-induced muscle relaxation and ataxia. Plasma 3alpha,5alpha-THP levels did not differ in the B6 and D2 mice injected with this steroid, suggesting that the strain differences were not pharmacokinetic. Collectively, the results in selectively bred Withdrawal Seizure-Prone and -Resistant mice and B6 and D2 inbred strains suggest that genetic differences in neuroactive steroid sensitivity and biosynthesis may contribute to ethanol withdrawal severity.