Low serum BDNF and food intake regulation: a possible new explanation of the pathophysiology of eating disorders

Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2009 Mar 17;33(2):312-6. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2008.12.009. Epub 2008 Dec 25.


Background: Several lines of evidence suggest that brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) plays an important role in weight regulation and eating behavior, and poorly balanced diets lead to a decrease in blood BDNF levels. However, studies regarding BDNF blood levels in eating disorders (ED) have yielded inconsistent results. We measured serum concentrations of BDNF and assessed behavior and cognition related to eating in ED patients and control subjects.

Methods: Forty female drug-free patients [19 with anorexia nervosa (AN), 21 with bulimia nervosa (BN)], who did not meet the diagnostic criteria for depressive disorder, and 24 age-matched normal control subjects were enrolled in the current study. We evaluated eating-related psychopathology and depressive symptoms using the Eating Disorder Inventory-2 (EDI-2), Eating Attitude Test-26 (EAT-26) and the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS), and measured serum BDNF levels by an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay.

Results: Compared to normal controls, serum levels of BDNF were significantly reduced in AN, but not in BN. There was a significant positive correlation between serum BDNF levels and BMI in both AN patients (r=.649, p=.003) and BN patients (r=.626, p=.002). However, no correlation between serum BDNF levels and BMI was detected in the controls. Furthermore, there was a significant negative correlation between serum BDNF levels and the oral control subscale scores of EAT in both AN patients (r=-.506, p=.027) and BN patients (r=-.511, p=.018); whereas, no correlation was detected in normal controls.

Conclusion: Our study demonstrated that individuals showing more extreme food intake regulation were those with lower serum BDNF levels. This finding is contrary to that in mice where mice with reduced BDNF levels showed aberrant eating behavior. This result suggests that BDNF is no longer functioning appropriately in ED patients, which could be an important factor in the pathophysiological of ED.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anorexia / blood
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / blood*
  • Bulimia / blood
  • Eating / physiology*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Young Adult


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor