Walking speed decline in older adults is associated with elevated pro-BDNF in plasma extracellular vesicles

Exp Gerontol. 2017 Nov;98:209-216. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2017.08.024. Epub 2017 Aug 23.


Background: Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is produced by cleavage of proBDNF, and BDNF and proBDNF may play antagonistic roles in nervous system development, learning, memory and neuronal stress resistance. BDNF and proBDNF are present in blood, but the origin and relative contributions of soluble and extracellular vesicle (EV)-associated levels are unknown.

Methods: In this study we used validated immunoassays to measure proBDNF and BDNF levels in plasma, total plasma EVs and a subpopulation of EVs enriched for neuronal origin (expressing the neuronal marker L1CAM) in 150 Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging participants with and without decline in walking speed (reflecting aging-associated motor decline).

Results: Levels of BDNF and proBDNF were highest in L1CAM+ EVs. Participants with walking speed decline had higher levels of proBDNF in L1CAM+ EVs compared to non-decliners, but no differences in proBDNF levels in plasma and total EV.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that levels of proBDNF and BDNF in circulating L1CAM+ EVs might be used as biomarkers for conditions involving altered BDNF signaling.

Keywords: Aging; BDNF; BLSA; Exosomes; Extracellular vesicles; Motor function; Walking speed; proBDNF.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / blood*
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / blood*
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Exercise Test
  • Extracellular Vesicles / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neural Cell Adhesion Molecule L1 / blood
  • Protein Precursors / blood*
  • Time Factors
  • Up-Regulation
  • Walking Speed*


  • Biomarkers
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Neural Cell Adhesion Molecule L1
  • Protein Precursors
  • brain-derived neurotrophic factor precursor
  • BDNF protein, human