Repetitive enhancement of serum BDNF subsequent to continuation ECT

Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2019 Nov;140(5):426-434. doi: 10.1111/acps.13080. Epub 2019 Sep 11.


Introduction: Continuation electroconvulsive therapy (c-ECT) is highly effective for the prevention of depressive symptom relapse. There is a lack of understanding, about how c-ECT works in humans, particularly with regard to its effects on brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) concentrations. Here, we aimed to close a gap in the literature by evaluating BDNF levels in patients receiving c-ECT.

Methods: We included 13 patients with either unipolar or bipolar depression (mean age ± SD: 55.5 ± 17.1; f/m: 10/3; unipolar/bipolar: 10/3) who received between one and four c-ECT (average per patient: 2.8). Serum BDNF (sBDNF) levels were assessed before and after each c-ECT sessions. Clinical assessments were also administered both before and after treatment.

Results: Our analysis revealed a significant increase in sBDNF after each treatment (c-ECT 1-3: P < 0.001, c-ECT 4: P = 0.018). The application of multiple c-ECT treatments was not, however, associated with further sBDNF enhancements. Psychometric scores were not significantly altered following c-ECT.

Discussion: An increase in sBDNF concentrations subsequent to c-ECT parallel data from the animal literature, which has linked regularly applied electrical stimulation to neuroplastic processes. This finding suggests a relationship between ECT-induced sBDNF concentrations and (sustained) remission status, considering a stable clinical condition across c-ECT.

Keywords: brain-derived neurotrophic factor; continuation electroconvulsive therapy; depression; unipolar and bipolar affective disorder.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Bipolar Disorder / blood*
  • Bipolar Disorder / therapy*
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / blood*
  • Depressive Disorder / blood*
  • Depressive Disorder / therapy*
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Secondary Prevention
  • Young Adult


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • BDNF protein, human