Brain-derived neurotrophic factor and TrkB modulate visual experience-dependent refinement of neuronal pathways in retina

J Neurosci. 2007 Jul 4;27(27):7256-67. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0779-07.2007.


Sensory experience refines neuronal structure and functionality. The visual system has proved to be a productive model system to study this plasticity. In the neonatal retina, the dendritic arbors of a large proportion of ganglion cells are diffuse in the inner plexiform layer. With maturation, many of these arbors become monolaminated. Visual deprivation suppresses this remodeling. Little is known of the molecular mechanisms controlling maturational and experience-dependent refinement. Here, we tested the hypothesis that brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is known to regulate dendritic branching and synaptic function in the brain, modulates the developmental and visual experience-dependent refinement of retinal ganglion cells. We used a transgenic mouse line, in which a small number of ganglion cells were labeled with yellow fluorescence protein, to delineate their dendritic structure in vivo. We found that transgenic overexpression of BDNF accelerated the laminar refinement of ganglion cell dendrites, whereas decreased TrkB expression or retina-specific deletion of TrkB, the cognate receptor for BDNF, retarded it. BDNF-TrkB signaling regulated the maturational formation of new branches in ON but not the bilaminated ON-OFF ganglion cells. Furthermore, BDNF overexpression overrides the requirement for visual inputs to stimulate laminar refinement and dendritic branching of ganglion cells. These experiments reveal a previously unrecognized action of BDNF and TrkB in controlling cell-specific, experience-dependent remodeling of neuronal structures in the visual system.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / biosynthesis
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / genetics
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Rats
  • Receptor, trkB / biosynthesis
  • Receptor, trkB / genetics
  • Receptor, trkB / physiology*
  • Retina / growth & development*
  • Retina / metabolism*
  • Retina / physiology
  • Sensory Deprivation / physiology
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology
  • Visual Pathways / growth & development*
  • Visual Pathways / metabolism*
  • Visual Pathways / physiology


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Receptor, trkB