Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a trophic factor regulating cell survival and synaptic plasticity. Recent findings indicate that BDNF could be a potential regulatory factor for cognitive functioning in normal and/or neuropathological conditions. With regard to neurological disorders, recent data suggest that individuals with Parkinson's disease (PD) may be affected by cognitive deficits and that they have altered BDNF production. Therefore, the hypothesis can be advanced that BDNF levels are associated with the cognitive state of these patients. With this in mind, the present study was aimed at exploring the relationship between BDNF serum levels and cognitive functioning in PD patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Thirteen PD patients with MCI were included in the study. They were administered an extensive neuropsychological test battery that investigated executive, episodic memory, attention, visual-spatial and language domains. A single score was obtained for each cognitive domain by averaging z-scores on tests belonging to that specific domain. BDNF serum levels were measured by enzyme-linked immunoassay (ELISA). Pearson's correlation analyses were performed between BDNF serum levels and cognitive performance. Results showed a significant positive correlation between BDNF serum levels and both attention (p < 0.05) and executive (p < 0.05) domains. Moreover, in the executive domain we found a significant correlation between BDNF levels and scores on tests assessing working memory and self-monitoring/inhibition. These preliminary data suggest that BDNF serum levels are associated with cognitive state in PD patients with MCI. Given the role of BDNF in regulating synaptic plasticity, the present findings give further support to the hypothesis that this trophic factor may be a potential biomarker for evaluating cognitive changes in PD and other neurological syndromes associated with cognitive decline.
Keywords: BDNF; Parkinson’s disease; cognitive functions; mild cognitive impairment; neuropsychological deficits.