Investigating the link between serum concentrations of brain-derived neurotrophic factor and behavioral measures in anxious alcohol-dependent individuals

Alcohol. 2020 Dec;89:75-83. doi: 10.1016/j.alcohol.2020.07.009. Epub 2020 Aug 13.


Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) plays a role in different neurophysiological processes, including those involved in alcohol- and anxiety-related behaviors. Preclinical and clinical studies indicate that chronic excessive alcohol use leads to a downregulation of BDNF production in the periphery and in the brain. In addition, a decrease in BDNF concentrations in the blood has been reported to be associated with increased anxiety levels. Non-treatment-seeking alcohol-dependent individuals with high trait anxiety were studied to assess whether serum BDNF concentrations may be linked to self-reported levels of alcohol drinking, anxiety, and other behavioral measures. Participants had a current diagnosis of alcohol dependence, high trait anxiety score, and were not seeking treatment for alcohol dependence or anxiety. A fasting blood sample was collected from each participant and serum BDNF was measured using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Behavioral data were collected on the same day, including measures of alcohol drinking, craving, dependence severity, and anxiety. Bivariate correlations were run between BDNF levels and behavioral measures. Serum BDNF concentrations were negatively correlated with average drinks per drinking days (r = -0.41, p = 0.02) and positively correlated with obsessive-compulsive drinking scale (r = 0.48, p = 0.007) and state-trait anxiety inventory (r = 0.52, p = 0.003) scores. These findings shed light on the possible role of the BDNF system in the neurobiology of alcohol- and anxiety-related behaviors.

Keywords: BDNF; alcohol; anxiety; craving; dependence; drinking.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcoholism*
  • Anxiety*
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor* / blood
  • Ethanol
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Ethanol