Targeting Neurotrophins to Specific Populations of Neurons: NGF, BDNF, and NT-3 and Their Relevance for Treatment of Spinal Cord Injury

Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Mar 3;18(3):548. doi: 10.3390/ijms18030548.


Neurotrophins are a family of proteins that regulate neuronal survival, synaptic function, and neurotransmitter release, and elicit the plasticity and growth of axons within the adult central and peripheral nervous system. Since the 1950s, these factors have been extensively studied in traumatic injury models. Here we review several members of the classical family of neurotrophins, the receptors they bind to, and their contribution to axonal regeneration and sprouting of sensory and motor pathways after spinal cord injury (SCI). We focus on nerve growth factor (NGF), brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and neurotrophin-3 (NT-3), and their effects on populations of neurons within diverse spinal tracts. Understanding the cellular targets of neurotrophins and the responsiveness of specific neuronal populations will allow for the most efficient treatment strategies in the injured spinal cord.

Keywords: brain-derived neurotrophic factor; nerve growth factor; neuroprotection; neurotrophic factors; neurotrophin-3; plasticity; regeneration; spinal cord injury.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy
  • Nerve Growth Factor / metabolism
  • Nerve Growth Factors / metabolism*
  • Nerve Growth Factors / pharmacology
  • Nerve Growth Factors / therapeutic use
  • Nerve Regeneration / drug effects
  • Neural Pathways / drug effects
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Neurotrophin 3 / metabolism
  • Protein Binding
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / drug therapy
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / etiology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / metabolism*


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Nerve Growth Factors
  • Neurotrophin 3
  • Nerve Growth Factor