Neurotrophin-dependent modulation of glutamatergic synaptic transmission in the mammalian CNS

Gen Pharmacol. 1998 Nov;31(5):667-74. doi: 10.1016/s0306-3623(98)00190-6.


1. The protein family of the neurotrophins, consisting of nerve growth factor (NGF), brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and Neurotrophin-3, -4/5, and -6 (NT-3; NT-4/5; NT-6) is well known to enhance the survival and to stabilize the phenotype of different populations of neurons in the central and the peripheral nervous system. These effects are mediated via binding to specific tyrosine kinase receptors (Trks) and to the low-affinity p75 neurotrophin receptor. 2. The neurotrophins NGF, BDNF, and NT-3 and the BDNF and NT-3 selective receptors (TrkB, TrkC) are expressed at high levels in neurons of the basal forebrain, the hippocampus, and the neocortex of the mammalian brain. The expression and secretion of NGF and BDNF in these brain areas is regulated by (physiological levels of) neuronal activity. 3. Exogenous application of the neurotrophins to hippocampal and neocortical neurons can enhance excitatory glutamatergic synaptic transmission via activation of Trk receptors. In addition, long-term potentiation (a potential cellular correlate for learning and memory formation in mammals) in the rodent hippocampus depends on endogenous supply of neurons with BDNF. 4. Judged by the analysis of electrophysiological data, the BDNF- and NT-3-induced enhancement of glutamatergic synapses is mediated by increasing the efficacy of glutamate release from the presynaptic neuron. However, neurotrophin-dependent postsynaptic enhancement of NMDA (but not AMPA) receptor responsiveness has also been shown. 5. On the molecular level, neither the pre- nor the postsynaptic modulation of glutamatergic synapses by neurotrophins is well understood. However, neurotrophins were shown to acutely affect intraneuronal Ca2+ levels and to influence molecular components of the transmitter release machinery, which could underly the presynaptic modifications, whereas BDNF-induced phosphorylation of NMDA-type glutamate receptors could account for the postsynaptic effects. 6. Taken together, these results suggest that the activity-dependent release of neurotrophins at frequently used synapses could modulate the synaptic efficacy at these junctions. Thus, neurotrophins might operate as locally released feedback modulators of synaptic transmission, and this could be a cellular correlate for certain aspects of information processing in the mammalian brain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / physiology
  • Electrophysiology
  • Glutamic Acid / physiology*
  • Nerve Growth Factors / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Neurotrophin 3
  • Receptors, Nerve Growth Factor / physiology
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Nerve Growth Factors
  • Neurotrophin 3
  • Receptors, Nerve Growth Factor
  • neurotrophin 6
  • neurotrophin 5
  • Glutamic Acid
  • neurotrophin 4