Brain-derived neurotrophic factor: a dynamic gatekeeper of neural plasticity

Curr Mol Pharmacol. 2010 Jan;3(1):12-29. doi: 10.2174/1874467211003010012.


Brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a member of the neurotrophin family of structurally related proteins that promote neuronal differentiation and survival during development, is a potent modulator of synaptic plasticity. Changes in BDNF expression, release and neuromodulatory activity, mediated by both epigenetic and post-translational mechanisms, have been associated with many pathological conditions and developmental experiences, such as maternal deprivation and environmental enrichment. Much effort has been devoted to studying plasticity in the hippocampus, a structure traditionally associated with learning and memory, yet there is increasing empirical support for the contribution of another structure--the amygdala--to BDNF-induced changes. Because the amygdala is a critical site for emotional memory formation, and many emotional and neurodevelopmental pathologies have been linked to amygdala-based abnormalities, considerable efforts have been devoted to the characterization of its circuitry. Here we review the role of BDNF as a biochemical integrator of convergent cellular signals, and as a central driver of neural plasticity. We conclude by emphasizing the importance of characterizing BDNF signaling cascades in behaviorally-relevant networks, to identify potential drug targets for novel therapeutic interventions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / genetics
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Methyl-CpG-Binding Protein 2 / metabolism
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Repressor Proteins / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Methyl-CpG-Binding Protein 2
  • RE1-silencing transcription factor
  • Repressor Proteins