BDNF Serum Levels are Associated With White Matter Microstructure in Schizophrenia - A Pilot Study

Front Psychiatry. 2020 Feb 21;11:31. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00031. eCollection 2020.


Brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) has been implicated in the pathophysiology of schizophrenia. As BDNF regulates axonal and dendritic growth, altered BDNF levels in schizophrenia patients might underlie changes in structural connectivity that have been identified by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). We investigated a possible correlation between BDNF serum levels, fiber tract architecture, and regional grey matter volumes in 19 schizophrenia patients and a gender- and age-matched control group. Two patients had to be excluded due to abnormalities in their MRI scans. Serum samples were obtained to determine BDNF levels, and T1- as well as diffusion-weighted sequences were acquired. We, then, investigated correlations between BDNF serum levels with neuroimaging parameters, using Voxel-based Morphometry (VBM) and Tract-based Spatial Statistics (TBSS). We found a significant negative correlation between BDNF serum levels and FA values in the right inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus and the right superior longitudinal fasciculus. These regions also showed a decrease in AD values in schizophrenia patients. Grey matter volumes were reduced in patients but there was no correlation between regional grey matter volumes and BDNF. The right superior longitudinal fasciculus has been repeatedly identified to exhibit microstructural changes in schizophrenia patients. Our findings of a negative correlation between BDNF and FA values in patients might indicate that BDNF is upregulated to compensate decreased structural connectivity as it induces neural plasticity and shows increased levels in damaged tissue. These findings of our pilot study are encouraging leads for future research in larger samples.

Keywords: Tract-based Spatial Statistics; brain derived neurotrophic factor; diffusion tensor imaging; dysconnectivity hypothesis; neuroimaging; schizophrenia; superior longitudinal fasciculus.