Increased serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor is predictive of cocaine relapse outcomes: a prospective study

Biol Psychiatry. 2011 Oct 15;70(8):706-711. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2011.05.013. Epub 2011 Jul 8.


Background: Cocaine dependence is associated with high relapse rates, but few biological markers associated with relapse outcomes have been identified. Extending preclinical research showing a role for central brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in cocaine seeking, we examined whether serum BDNF is altered in abstinent, early recovering, cocaine-dependent individuals and whether it is predictive of subsequent relapse risk.

Methods: Serum samples were collected across three consecutive mornings from 35 treatment-engaged, 3-week-abstinent cocaine-dependent inpatients (17 males/18 females) and 34 demographically matched hospitalized healthy control participants (17 males/17 females). Cocaine-dependent individuals were prospectively followed on days 14, 30, and 90 posttreatment discharge to assess cocaine relapse outcomes. Time to cocaine relapse, number of days of cocaine use (frequency), and amount of cocaine use (quantity) were the main outcome measures.

Results: High correlations in serum BDNF across days indicated reliable and stable serum BDNF measurements. Significantly higher mean serum BDNF levels were observed for the cocaine-dependent patients compared with healthy control participants (p < .001). Higher serum BDNF levels predicted shorter subsequent time to cocaine relapse (hazard ratio: 1.09, p < .05), greater number of days (p < .05), and higher total amounts of cocaine used (p = .05).

Conclusions: High serum BDNF levels in recovering cocaine-dependent individuals are predictive of future cocaine relapse outcomes and may represent a clinically relevant marker of relapse risk. These data suggest that serum BDNF levels may provide an indication of relapse risk during early recovery from cocaine dependence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / blood*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / blood*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Recurrence
  • Time Factors


  • Biomarkers
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor