Chronic heroin and cocaine abuse is associated with decreased serum concentrations of the nerve growth factor and brain-derived neurotrophic factor

J Psychopharmacol. 2007 Nov;21(8):820-5. doi: 10.1177/0269881107078491. Epub 2007 Aug 22.


Chronic cocaine and heroin users display a variety of central nervous system (CNS) dysfunctions including impaired attention, learning, memory, reaction time, cognitive flexibility, impulse control and selective processing. These findings suggest that these drugs may alter normal brain functions and possibly cause neurotoxicity. Neurotrophins are a class of proteins that serve as survival factors for CNS neurons. In particular, nerve growth factor (NGF) plays an important role in the survival and function of cholinergic neurons while brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is involved in synaptic plasticity and in the maintenance of midbrain dopaminergic and cholinergic neurons. In the present study, we measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) the NGF and BDNF levels in serum of three groups of subjects: heroin-dependent patients, cocaine-dependent patients and healthy volunteers. Our goal was to identify possible change in serum neurotrophins in heroin and cocaine users. BDNF was decreased in heroin users whereas NGF was decreased in both heroin and cocaine users. These findings indicate that NGF and BDNF may play a role in the neurotoxicity and addiction induced by these drugs. In view of the neurotrophin hypothesis of schizophrenia the data also suggest that reduced level of neurotrophins may increase the risk of developing psychosis in drug users.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / blood*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / blood*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / complications
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Female
  • Heroin Dependence / blood*
  • Heroin Dependence / complications
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nerve Growth Factor / blood*
  • Psychotic Disorders / etiology


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Nerve Growth Factor