The role of BDNF and HPA axis in the neurobiology of burnout syndrome

Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2008 Aug 1;32(6):1459-65. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2008.05.001. Epub 2008 May 8.


Chronic stress is known to affect the HPA axis. The few clinical studies which have been conducted on HPA-axis function in burnout have produced inconsistent results. The etiological relationship between sBDNF and burnout has not yet been studied. The aim of the current study was to investigate the role of BDNF and HPA axis in the neurobiology of burnout. In the current study 37 clinically diagnosed burnout participants were compared with 35 healthy controls in terms of BDNF, HPA axis, burnout symptoms, depression, anxiety and psychosomatic complaints. Basal serum cortisol, sBDNF and cortisol level after 1 mg DST was sampled. We found no significant differences in terms of HPA-axis function (for basal serum cortisol, p=0.592; for cortisol level after 1 mg DST, p=0.921), but we did find lowered sBDNF levels in burnout group (88.66+/-18.15 pg/ml) as compared to healthy controls (102.18+/-20.92 pg/ml) and the difference was statistically significant (p=0.005). Logistic Regression Analysis revealed that emotional exhaustion (p=0.05), depersonalization (p=0.005) and depression (p=0.025) were significantly associated with burnout. sBDNF levels correlated negatively with emotional exhaustion (r=-,268, p=0.026), depersonalization (r=-,333, p=0.005) and correlated positively with competence (r=0.293, p=0.015) sub-scales of burnout inventory. However, there were no significant relationships between cortisol levels and sBDNF levels (r=0.80, p=0.51), depression, anxiety, psychosomatic complaints and burnout inventory. Our results suggest that low BDNF might contribute to the neurobiology of burnout syndrome and it seems to be associated with burnout symptoms including altered mood and cognitive functions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / physiology*
  • Burnout, Professional / metabolism*
  • Burnout, Professional / physiopathology*
  • Burnout, Professional / psychology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Dexamethasone
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiopathology*
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Nurses / psychology
  • Physicians / psychology
  • Pituitary Function Tests
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Dexamethasone
  • Hydrocortisone