Role of brain-derived neurotrophic factor in the aetiology of depression: implications for pharmacological treatment

CNS Drugs. 2010 Jan;24(1):1-7. doi: 10.2165/11530010-000000000-00000.


Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a critical mediator of activity-dependent neuronal plasticity in the cerebral cortex. Deficits in neurotrophic factors have been proposed to underlie mood disorders. However, recent evidence suggests that mood disorders may be produced by abnormalities in the adaptation of neural networks to environmental conditions. Antidepressants may act by enhancing neuronal plasticity, which allows environmental inputs to modify the neuronal networks to better fine tune the individual to the outside world. Recent observations in the visual cortex directly support this idea. According to the network hypothesis of depression, changes in the levels of neurotrophins including BDNF may not directly produce depression or an antidepressant effect, but neurotrophins may act as critical tools in the process whereby environmental conditions guide neuronal networks to better adapt to the environment. This hypothesis suggests that antidepressant drugs should not be used alone but should always be combined with rehabilitation to guide the plastic networks within the brain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antidepressive Agents / pharmacology*
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism*
  • Depression / drug therapy*
  • Depression / physiopathology
  • Depression / rehabilitation
  • Humans
  • Nerve Growth Factors / metabolism
  • Nerve Net / metabolism
  • Neuronal Plasticity


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Nerve Growth Factors