Presynaptic and postsynaptic NMDA receptors mediate distinct effects of brain-derived neurotrophic factor on synaptic transmission

J Neurophysiol. 2008 Dec;100(6):3175-84. doi: 10.1152/jn.90880.2008. Epub 2008 Oct 15.


In addition to its effects on neuronal survival and differentiation, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) plays an important role in modulating synaptic transmission and plasticity in many brain areas, most notably the neocortex and hippocampus. These effects may underlie a role for BDNF in learning and memory as well as developmental plasticity. Consistent with localization of the tropomyosin-related kinase B receptor to both sides of the synapse, BDNF appears to have pre- and postsynaptic effects, but the underlying cellular mechanisms are unclear and it is not known whether pre- and postsynaptic modulations by BDNF occur simultaneously. To address these issues, we recorded dual-component (alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid [AMPA] and N-methyl-D-aspartate [NMDA]) miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents (mEPSCs) from cortical and hippocampal pyramidal neurons and dentate gyrus granule cells from acute brain slices. BDNF had no effect on the fast component of mEPSC decay or on the peak amplitude, suggesting that BDNF did not modulate postsynaptic AMPA receptors, although BDNF rapidly modulated NMDA receptors, as seen by an enhancement of the slow component of mEPSC decay that was prevented by blocking postsynaptic NMDA receptors. At the same time, BDNF acted presynaptically to enhance mEPSC frequency. Surprisingly, the effect on frequency was also NMDA receptor dependent, but required activation of presynaptic, not postsynaptic, NMDA receptors. BDNF also enhanced action potential-dependent glutamate release via presynaptic NMDA receptors, an effect that was unmasked when voltage-gated calcium channels were partially inhibited. Our results indicate that BDNF acutely modulates presynaptic release and postsynaptic responsiveness through simultaneous effects on pre- and postsynaptic NMDA receptors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / pharmacology*
  • Cadmium Chloride / pharmacology
  • Carbazoles / pharmacology
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Hippocampus / cytology
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Indole Alkaloids / pharmacology
  • Mice
  • Miniature Postsynaptic Potentials / drug effects
  • Miniature Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology
  • NG-Nitroarginine Methyl Ester / pharmacology
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques / methods
  • Presynaptic Terminals / metabolism*
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / metabolism*
  • Synapses / drug effects*
  • Synapses / physiology
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology
  • Visual Cortex / cytology


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Carbazoles
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists
  • Indole Alkaloids
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • staurosporine aglycone
  • Cadmium Chloride
  • NG-Nitroarginine Methyl Ester