Brain-derived neurotrophic factor serum levels in cocaine-dependent patients during early abstinence

Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2013 Sep;23(9):1078-84. doi: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2012.08.016. Epub 2012 Sep 26.


Preclinical studies indicate that brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is involved in neuroplastic changes underlying enduring cocaine-seeking following withdrawal. However, little is known about temporal changes in serum BDNF levels or the involvement of BDNF in craving and abstinence in early-abstinent cocaine-dependent patients. Twenty-three cocaine-dependent individuals (aged 33.65 ± 6.85 years) completed a two-week detoxification program at an inpatient facility. Two serum samples were collected for each patient at baseline and at the end of the protocol. Serum samples were also collected for 46 healthy controls (aged 35.52 ± 9.37 years). Demographic, consumption and clinical data were recorded for all patients. Significantly lower serum BDNF levels (p<.0001) were observed for cocaine-dependent patients at baseline compared to healthy controls. Serum BDNF levels increased significantly across 12 days of early abstinence (p=.030). Baseline BDNF levels correlated with craving (p=.034). Post-detoxification BDNF levels correlated with craving (p=.018), loss of control (p<.000), abstinence measures (p=0.031), depression (p=0.036), and anxiety (p=0.036). Post-detoxification BDNF levels also had predictive value for the loss of control measure of craving. Chronic cocaine use is associated with decreased serum BDNF. A progressive increase in serum BDNF levels during early abstinence correlates with cocaine craving and abstinence symptoms and may reflect increasing BDNF levels in different brain regions. These findings suggest that serum BDNF may be a biomarker for cocaine addiction.

Keywords: Abstinence; Addiction; BDNF; Brain-derived neurotrophic factor; Cocaine; Craving.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / biosynthesis
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / blood*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / blood*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / blood*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Time Factors


  • Biomarkers
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor