Reduced levels of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the serum of diabetic retinopathy patients and in the retina of diabetic rats

Cell Mol Neurobiol. 2013 Apr;33(3):359-67. doi: 10.1007/s10571-012-9901-8. Epub 2012 Dec 28.


Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is widely recognized as a neurovascular disease. Retina, being a neuronal tissue of the eye, produces neurotrophic factors for its maintenance. However, diabetes dysregulates their levels and thereby may damage the retina. Among neurotrophins, brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is the most abundant in the retina. In this study, we investigated the level of BDNF in the serum of patients with DR and also in the serum and retina of streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. The level of BDNF was significantly decreased in the serum of proliferative diabetic retinopathy patients as compared to that of non-diabetic healthy controls (25.5 ± 8.5-10.0 ± 8.1 ng/ml, p < 0.001) as well as compared to that of diabetic patients with no retinopathy (21.8 ± 4.7-10.0 ± 8.1 ng/ml, p < 0.001), as measured by ELISA techniques. The levels of BDNF in the serum and retina of diabetic rats were also significantly reduced compared to that of non-diabetic controls (p < 0.05). In addition, the expression level of tropomyosin-related kinase B (TrkB) was significantly decreased in diabetic rat retina compared to that of non-diabetic controls as determined by Western blotting technique. Caspase-3 activity was increased in diabetic rat retina after 3 weeks of diabetes and remained elevated until 10 weeks, which negatively correlated with the level of BDNF (r = -0.544, p = 0.013). Our results indicate that reduced levels of BDNF in diabetes may cause apoptosis and neurodegeneration early in diabetic retina, which may lead to neuro-vascular damage later in DR.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blotting, Western
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / blood*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Caspase 3 / metabolism
  • Demography
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Experimental / blood
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Experimental / metabolism*
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / blood*
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / enzymology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Rats
  • Receptor, trkB / metabolism
  • Retina / enzymology
  • Retina / metabolism*
  • Retina / pathology


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Receptor, trkB
  • Caspase 3