Fingolimod, a sphingosine-1 phosphate receptor modulator, increases BDNF levels and improves symptoms of a mouse model of Rett syndrome

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Aug 28;109(35):14230-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1206093109. Epub 2012 Aug 13.


The functional relevance of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is beginning to be well appreciated not only in mice, but also in humans. Because reduced levels typically correlate with impaired neuronal function, increasing BDNF levels with well-tolerated drugs diffusing into the central nervous system may help in ameliorating functional deficits. With this objective in mind, we used the sphingosine-1 phosphate receptor agonist fingolimod, a drug that crosses the blood-brain barrier. In addition, fingolimod has recently been introduced as the first oral treatment for multiple sclerosis. In cultured neurons, fingolimod increases BDNF levels and counteracts NMDA-induced neuronal death in a BDNF-dependent manner. Ongoing synaptic activity and MAPK signaling is required for fingolimod-induced BDNF increase, a pathway that can also be activated in vivo by systemic fingolimod administration. Mice lacking Mecp2, a gene frequently mutated in Rett syndrome, show decreased levels of BDNF, and fingolimod administration was found to partially rescue these levels as well as the size of the striatum, a volumetric sensor of BDNF signaling in rodents. These changes correlate with increased locomotor activity of the Mecp2-deficient animals, suggesting that fingolimod may improve the functional output of the nervous system, in addition to its well-documented effects on lymphocyte egress from lymph nodes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / cytology
  • Astrocytes / metabolism
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / deficiency
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism*
  • Cell Death / drug effects
  • Cell Death / physiology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Agonists / toxicity
  • Female
  • Fingolimod Hydrochloride
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / pharmacology
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System / drug effects
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System / physiology
  • Methyl-CpG-Binding Protein 2 / genetics
  • Mice
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • N-Methylaspartate / toxicity
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Organ Culture Techniques
  • Pregnancy
  • Propylene Glycols / pharmacology*
  • Receptors, Lysosphingolipid / agonists*
  • Rett Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Rett Syndrome / genetics
  • Rett Syndrome / metabolism*
  • Sphingosine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Sphingosine / pharmacology


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Agonists
  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Mecp2 protein, mouse
  • Methyl-CpG-Binding Protein 2
  • Propylene Glycols
  • Receptors, Lysosphingolipid
  • N-Methylaspartate
  • Fingolimod Hydrochloride
  • Sphingosine