Pharmacological characterization of six trkB antibodies reveals a novel class of functional agents for the study of the BDNF receptor

Br J Pharmacol. 2011 Feb;162(4):947-60. doi: 10.1111/j.1476-5381.2010.01094.x.


Background and purpose: By interacting with trkB receptors, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) triggers various signalling pathways responsible for neurone survival, differentiation and modulation of synaptic transmission. Numerous reports have implicated BDNF and trkB in the pathogenesis of various central nervous system affections and in cancer, thus representing trkB as a promising therapeutic target. In this study, we used an antibody-based approach to search for trkB-selective functional reagents.

Experimental approach: Six commercially available polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies were tested on recombinant and native, human and rodent trkB receptors. Functional and pharmacological characterization was performed using a modified version of the KIRA-elisa method and radioligand binding studies. Western blot analyses and neurite outgrowth assays were carried out to determine the specificity and selectivity of antibody effects. The survival properties of one antibody were further assessed on cultured neurones in a serum-deprived paradigm.

Key results: The functional trkB-selective antibodies showed distinct pharmacological profiles, ranging from partial agonists to antagonists, acting on trkB receptors through allosteric modulations. The same diversity of effects was observed on the mitogen-activated protein kinase signalling pathway downstream of trkB and on the subsequent neurite outgrowth. One antibody with partial agonist activity demonstrated cell survival properties by activating the Akt pathway. Finally, these antibodies were functionally validated as true trkB-selective ligands because they failed activating trkA or trkC, and contrary to BDNF, none of them bind to p75(NTR).

Conclusions and implications: These trkB-selective antibodies represent a novel class of pharmacological tools to explore the pathophysiological roles of trkB and its potential therapeutic relevance for the treatment of various disorders.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Allosteric Regulation
  • Animals
  • Antibodies / immunology
  • Antibodies / pharmacology*
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / immunology
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / pharmacology*
  • Antibody Specificity
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism
  • CHO Cells
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology
  • Cricetinae
  • Cricetulus
  • Embryo, Mammalian
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Neurites / drug effects
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • PC12 Cells
  • Rats
  • Receptor, trkB / agonists
  • Receptor, trkB / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptor, trkB / genetics
  • Receptor, trkB / metabolism*
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / agonists
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • Antibodies
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • Receptor, trkB