Novel metabolic role for BDNF in pancreatic β-cell insulin secretion

Nat Commun. 2020 Apr 23;11(1):1950. doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-15833-5.


BDNF signaling in hypothalamic circuitries regulates mammalian food intake. However, whether BDNF exerts metabolic effects on peripheral organs is currently unknown. Here, we show that the BDNF receptor TrkB.T1 is expressed by pancreatic β-cells where it regulates insulin release. Mice lacking TrkB.T1 show impaired glucose tolerance and insulin secretion. β-cell BDNF-TrkB.T1 signaling triggers calcium release from intracellular stores, increasing glucose-induced insulin secretion. Additionally, BDNF is secreted by skeletal muscle and muscle-specific BDNF knockout phenocopies the β-cell TrkB.T1 deletion metabolic impairments. The finding that BDNF is also secreted by differentiated human muscle cells and induces insulin secretion in human islets via TrkB.T1 identifies a new regulatory function of BDNF on metabolism that is independent of CNS activity. Our data suggest that muscle-derived BDNF may be a key factor mediating increased glucose metabolism in response to exercise, with implications for the treatment of diabetes and related metabolic diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / genetics
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism*
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Glucose Intolerance
  • Humans
  • Insulin Secretion*
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / metabolism*
  • Islets of Langerhans / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Protein Isoforms / genetics
  • Protein Isoforms / metabolism
  • Receptor, trkB / chemistry
  • Receptor, trkB / genetics
  • Receptor, trkB / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Receptor, trkB
  • Glucose
  • Calcium