Are serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor concentrations related to brain structure and psychopathology in late childhood and early adolescence?

CNS Spectr. 2020 Dec;25(6):790-796. doi: 10.1017/S1092852919001688. Epub 2019 Dec 17.


Objective: Mental disorders can have a major impact on brain development. Peripheral blood concentrations of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) are lower in adult psychiatric disorders. Serum BDNF concentrations and BDNF genotype have been associated with cortical maturation in children and adolescents. In 2 large independent samples, this study tests associations between serum BDNF concentrations, brain structure, and psychopathology, and the effects of BDNF genotype on BDNF serum concentrations in late childhood and early adolescence.

Methods: Children and adolescents (7-14 years old) from 2 cities (n = 267 in Porto Alegre; n = 273 in São Paulo) were evaluated as part of the Brazilian high-risk cohort (HRC) study. Serum BDNF concentrations were quantified by sandwich ELISA. Genotyping was conducted from blood or saliva samples using the SNParray Infinium HumanCore Array BeadChip. Subcortical volumes and cortical thickness were quantified using FreeSurfer. The Development and Well-Being Behavior Assessment was used to identify the presence of a psychiatric disorder.

Results: Serum BDNF concentrations were not associated with subcortical volumes or with cortical thickness. Serum BDNF concentration did not differ between participants with and without mental disorders, or between Val homozygotes and Met carriers.

Conclusions: No evidence was found to support serum BDNF concentrations as a useful marker of developmental differences in brain and behavior in early life. Negative findings were replicated in 2 of the largest independent samples investigated to date.

Keywords: Adolescents; BDNF; Children; Cortical Thickness; MRI; Psychiatric Disorders.