Background: Obesity, a critical component of metabolic syndrome (MetS), is associated with depression. Deficiency of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is involved in the mechanism of depression. We hypothesized that weight reduction would improve depressive symptoms via increasing BDNF levels in obese men.
Methods: Male adults with obesity were enrolled in a weight-reduction program for twelve weeks. All subjects underwent daily caloric restriction and an exercise program which was regularly assessed in group classes. Fasting blood samples and Zung Self-Rating Depression Scale (Zung SDS) scores were collected for assessments before and after the study.
Results: A total of 36 subjects completed this program. The average reduction in body weight was 8.4 ± 5.1 kg (8.8 ± 5.1%, P < 0.001). Fasting serum BDNF significantly increased after the study (from 40.4 ± 7.8 to 46.9 ± 8.9 ng/ml, P < 0.001). However, the depression symptoms, as assessed by the Zung Self-Rating Depression Scale (Zung SDS), did not reduce significantly (P = 0.486). Divided into subgroups based on changes in BDNF, Zung SDS scores were significantly reduced in subjects with greater BDNF increase than in those with minor BDNF change (-3.9 ± 6.2 vs. 2.3 ± 6.7, P = 0.009). The increased percentage of BDNF was inversely correlated with the change in Zung SDS (r = -0.380, P = 0.022). Multivariate regression analysis showed that reduction in BDNF was independently associated with change in Zung SDS (95% confidence interval -0.315 to -0.052, P = 0.008).
Conclusion: Zung SDS only significantly improved in men with increased fasting BDNF levels after a lifestyle intervention.
Trial registration: (NCT01065753, ClinicalTrials.gov).