Brain-derived neurotrophic factor as a biomarker for mood disorders: an historical overview and future directions

Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2010 Aug;64(4):341-57. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1819.2010.02113.x.


Mood disorders, such as major depressive disorder (MDD) and bipolar disorder (BPD), are the most prevalent psychiatric conditions, and are also among the most severe and debilitating. However, the precise neurobiology underlying these disorders is currently unknown. One way to combat these disorders is to discover novel biomarkers for them. The development of such biomarkers will aid both in the diagnosis of mood disorders and in the development of effective psychiatric medications to treat them. A number of preclinical studies have suggested that the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) plays an important role in the pathophysiology of MDD. In 2003, we reported that serum levels of BDNF in antidepressant-naive patients with MDD were significantly lower than those of patients medicated with antidepressants and normal controls, and that serum BDNF levels were negatively correlated with the severity of depression. Additionally, we found that decreased serum levels of BDNF in antidepressant-naive patients recovered to normal levels associated with the recovery of depression after treatment with antidepressant medication. This review article will provide an historical overview of the role played by BDNF in the pathophysiology of mood disorders and in the mechanism of action of therapeutic agents. Particular focus will be given to the potential use of BDNF as a biomarker for mood disorders. BDNF is initially synthesized as a precursor protein proBDNF, and then proBDNF is proteolytically cleaved to the mature BDNF. Finally, future perspectives on the use of proBDNF as a novel biomarker for mood disorders will be discussed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / blood*
  • Bipolar Disorder / blood
  • Bipolar Disorder / diagnosis
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / blood*
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / genetics
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / physiology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / blood
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mood Disorders / blood*
  • Mood Disorders / diagnosis
  • Polymorphism, Genetic / genetics
  • Protein Precursors / blood
  • Protein Precursors / physiology


  • Biomarkers
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Protein Precursors
  • brain-derived neurotrophic factor precursor