BDNF and synaptic plasticity, cognitive function, and dysfunction

Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2014:220:223-50. doi: 10.1007/978-3-642-45106-5_9.


Among all neurotrophins, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) stands out for its high level of expression in the brain and its potent effects on synapses. It is now widely accepted that the main function of BDNF in the adult brain is to regulate synapses, with structural and functional effects ranging from short-term to long-lasting, on excitatory or inhibitory synapses, in many brain regions. The diverse effects of BDNF on brain synapses stem from its complex downstream signaling cascades, as well as the diametrically opposing effects of the pro- and mature form through distinct receptors, TrkB and p75(NTR). Many aspects of BDNF cell biology are regulated by neuronal activity. The synergistic interactions between neuronal activity and synaptic plasticity by BDNF make it an ideal and essential regulator of cellular processes that underlie cognition and other complex behaviors. Indeed, numerous studies firmly established that BDNF plays a critical role in hippocampal long-term potentiation (LTP), a long-term enhancement of synaptic efficacy thought to underlie learning and memory. Converging evidence now strongly suggest that deficits in BDNF signaling contribute to the pathogenesis of several major diseases and disorders such as Huntington's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and depression. Thus, manipulating BDNF pathways represents a viable treatment approach to a variety of neurological and psychiatric disorders.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety / physiopathology
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / genetics
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Depression / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Long-Term Potentiation
  • Memory
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Receptor, trkB / physiology
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / physiology


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Receptor, trkB