Effects of BDNF Val66Met genotype and schizophrenia familial risk on a neural functional network for cognitive control in humans

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2019 Feb;44(3):590-597. doi: 10.1038/s41386-018-0248-9. Epub 2018 Oct 25.


Cognitive control represents an essential neuropsychological characteristic that allows for the rapid adaption of a changing environment by constant re-allocation of cognitive resources. This finely tuned mechanism is impaired in psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and contributes to cognitive deficits. Neuroimaging has highlighted the contribution of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and prefrontal regions (PFC) on cognitive control and demonstrated the impact of genetic variation, as well as genetic liability for schizophrenia. In this study, we aimed to examine the influence of the functional single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) rs6265 of a plasticity-related neurotrophic factor gene, BDNF (Val66Met), on cognitive control. Strong evidence implicates BDNF Val66Met in neural plasticity in humans. Furthermore, several studies suggest that although the variant is not convincingly associated with schizophrenia risk, it seems to be a modifier of the clinical presentation and course of the disease. In order to clarify the underlying mechanisms using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we studied the effects of this SNP on ACC and PFC activation, and the connectivity between these regions in a discovery sample of 85 healthy individuals and sought to replicate this effect in an independent sample of 253 individuals. Additionally, we tested the identified imaging phenotype in relation to schizophrenia familial risk in a sample of 58 unaffected first-degree relatives of schizophrenia patients. We found a significant increase in interregional connectivity between ACC and PFC in the risk-associated BDNF 66Met allele carriers. Furthermore, we replicated this effect in an independent sample and demonstrated its independence of structural confounds, as well as task specificity. A similar coupling increase was detectable in individuals with increased familial risk for schizophrenia. Our results show that a key neural circuit for cognitive control is influenced by a plasticity-related genetic variant, which may render this circuit particular susceptible to genetic and environmental risk factors for schizophrenia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / genetics*
  • Connectome*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Gyrus Cinguli / diagnostic imaging
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / genetics*
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Prefrontal Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Schizophrenia / genetics*
  • Young Adult


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • BDNF protein, human