Serum pro-BDNF levels correlate with phospho-tau staining in Alzheimer's disease

Neurobiol Aging. 2020 Mar:87:49-59. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2019.11.010. Epub 2019 Nov 22.


Disruption of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) biosynthesis and/or signaling has been implicated in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease (AD). We used postmortem brain and fluid samples from 20 patients with variable severity of AD and 11 controls to investigate whether BDNF levels in serum and brain tissue correlated with hippocampal pathology. Total BDNF, precursor BDNF (pro-BDNF), and mature BDNF were measured in cerebrospinal fluid, serum, and 3 postmortem brain regions. Histological markers for AD pathology, the BDNF cognate receptor (TrkB), and glia were measured in the hippocampus (HIP). Lower pro-BDNF levels were observed in the entorhinal and frontal cortices in AD cases compared with controls. AD cases also exhibited significantly lower staining densities of the cognate BDNF receptor TrkB in the HIP compared with controls, and TrkB staining was inversely correlated with both Amylo-Glo and pTau staining in the same region, suggesting a relationship between the density of the cognate BDNF receptor and accumulation of AD pathology. In addition, higher serum pro-BDNF levels correlated with lower HIP pro-BDNF levels and higher pTau staining in the HIP. Total BDNF levels in cortical regions were also negatively correlated with Amylo-Glo staining in the HIP suggesting that reduced BDNF cortical levels might influence hippocampal amyloid accumulation. These results strongly suggest that altered BDNF and TrkB receptors are involved in AD pathology and therefore warrant investigations into therapies involving the BDNF pathway.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; BDNF; Hippocampus; Neurotrophic factors; Pro-BDNF; TrkB.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alzheimer Disease / etiology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism*
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / metabolism
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / blood
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / metabolism*
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / metabolism
  • Middle Aged
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein Precursors / blood
  • Protein Precursors / metabolism*
  • Receptor, trkB / metabolism
  • Staining and Labeling / methods*
  • tau Proteins / metabolism*


  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Protein Precursors
  • brain-derived neurotrophic factor precursor
  • tau Proteins
  • BDNF protein, human
  • Receptor, trkB
  • tropomyosin-related kinase-B, human