Event: 381

Key Event Title


Reduced levels of BDNF

Short name


BDNF, Reduced

Key Event Component


Process Object Action
gene expression brain-derived neurotrophic factor decreased
secretion brain-derived neurotrophic factor decreased

Key Event Overview

AOPs Including This Key Event




Level of Biological Organization


Biological Organization

Cell term


Cell term
neural cell

Organ term


Taxonomic Applicability


Term Scientific Term Evidence Link
human Homo sapiens Strong NCBI
rat Rattus norvegicus Strong NCBI
mouse Mus musculus Strong NCBI

Life Stage Applicability


Life stage Evidence
During brain development Strong

Sex Applicability


Term Evidence
Mixed Strong

How This Key Event Works


Biological state: BDNF belongs to a family of closely related neurotrophic factors named neurotrophins and is widely expressed in the developing and mature CNS. In the rodent cortex, postnatal BDNF expression is initially low but slowly increases to reach high levels around weaning. Therefore, BDNF expression peaks at a time when both structural and functional maturation of cortical circuitry occurs. During postnatal development, BDNF levels are dynamically regulated, in part by neuronal activity dependent mechanisms (Waterhouse and Xu, 2009). Glutamate has been shown to increase the transcription and release of BDNF. Indeed, BDNF is synthesized, stored and released from glutamatergic neurons (Lessmann et al., 2003).

Biological compartments: BDNF initially is synthesized as precursor proteins (proBDNF), which is processed intracellularly to be transformed in its mature form (mBDNF) after proteolytically cleaved in the synaptic cleft by plasmin which is a protease activated by tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) (Cohen-Cory et al., 2010). proBDNF is constantly secreted while tPA release and mBDNF production depends on neuronal excitation (Head et al., 2009). Storage and activity-dependent release of BDNF has been demonstrated in both dendrites and axon terminals (Waterhouse and Xu, 2009). More specifically, in hippocampus, BDNF appears to be stored in dendritic processes of neurons (Balkowiec and Katz, 2002). BDNF is abundant in cerebellum and cortex and has also been measured in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) (Zhang et al., 2008), whole blood, plasma, serum (plasma without clotting factors) and platelets (Trajkovska et al., 2007). BDNF has been found to be produced by astrocytes under both physiological and pathological conditions (Endo, 2005; Coco et al., 2013; Nelson and Alkon, 2014).

In humans, mBDNF is sequestered in platelets, consequently BDNF can reach all tissues and organs. Lymphocytic cells have been shown to express BDNF in vitro similarly to eosinophils, dendritic cells, and endothelial cells. The visceral and airway epithelium are also significant sources of BDNF. Female reproductive system including ovaries, placenta and uterus also express BDNF (Wessels et al., 2014).

General role in biology: The biological functions of mBDNF are mediated by binding to tyrosine kinase B (TrkB) receptor that leads to the activation of three major intracellular signalling pathways, including MAPK, PI3K and PLCγ1 (Soulé et al., 2006). TrkB-mediated signaling regulates gene transcription in the nucleus through the activation of several transcription factors. These genes are involved in neurite outgrowth, synaptogenesis, synapse maturation and stabilization (Pang et al., 2004; Lu et al., 2005; Nelson and Alkon, 2014).

On the other hand, proBDNF binds to the p75 neurotrophin receptor (p75NTR) and activates RhoA, a small GTPase that regulates actin cytoskeleton polymerization leading to inhibition of axonal elongation, growth cone collapse, and apoptosis (Dubreuil et al., 2003; Yamauchi et al., 2004; Head et al., 2009).

How It Is Measured or Detected


Methods that have been previously reviewed and approved by a recognized authority should be included in the Overview section above. All other methods, including those well established in the published literature, should be described here. Consider the following criteria when describing each method: 1. Is the assay fit for purpose? 2. Is the assay directly or indirectly (i.e. a surrogate) related to a key event relevant to the final adverse effect in question? 3. Is the assay repeatable? 4. Is the assay reproducible?

No OECD methods are available to measure BDNF protein and mRNA levels. Depending on the tissue or fluid measurements distinct methods are used.

Brain tissue: BDNF protein levels can be measured by commercial available antibody sandwich ELISA kits, Western blotting, immunohistochemistry and immunofluorescence. BDNF primers for different exons are available to determine mRNA levels by RT-PCR. The Bdnf gene consists of multiple alternative exons (ten in human, eight in rodents and six in lower vertebrates), and a single exon coding for the entire pro-BDNF protein (Cohen-Cory et al., 2010).

Cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF): There are available commercial antibody sandwich ELISA kits (Trajkovska et al., 2007) and immunobead-based multiplex assays for high throughput screening (Zhang et al., 2008).

Whole blood, serum, plasma and platelets: There are several commercial double antibody sandwich ELISA kits that can be used for identification of BDNF levels in biological fluids (Trajkovska et al., 2007).

Methodological considerations that have to be taken into account during sample preparation and measurement of BDNF by ELISA have been recently reviewed in Elfving et al. 2010. A study measuring BDNF by a commercially available ELISA kit in various tissues and biological liquids derived from distinct species revealed that BDNF is undetectable in mouse blood and pig plasma (Klein et al., 2011). This study also showed that in most cases BDNF levels are comparable to levels reported in humans and that there is positive correlation between blood BDNF levels and hippocampal BDNF levels in rats and pigs (Klein et al., 2011).

Evidence Supporting Taxonomic Applicability


BDNF plays a critical role in normal brain development in most vertebrates, primarily documented empirically in mammalian species. Klein et al. (2011) examined blood, serum, plasma and brain-tissue and measured BDNF levels in three different mammalian species: rat, pig, and mouse, using an ELISA method (Aid et al., 2007), whereas Trajkovska et al. 2007 determined BDNF levels in human blood.

There is compelling data that demonstrates the role  of  BDNF  in brain development for many other taxa, including fish where it acts as neurotrophic factor in controlling cell proliferation (D'Angelo L et al., 2014; Heinrich and Pagtakhan, 2004) and  birds where BDNF influences development of the brain area that involved in the song control (Brenowitz 2013) and  the addition of new neurons to a cortical nucleus in adults . In the Xenopus visual system, BDNF acts as neurotrophic factor that mediates synaptic differentiation and maturation of the retinotectal circuit through cell autonomous TrkB signaling on retinal ganglion cells (Sanchez et al., 2006; Marshak et al., 2007).



Aid T, Kazantseva A, Piirsoo M, Palm K, Timmusk T. (2007) Mouse and rat BDNF gene structure and expression revisited. J Neurosci Res. 85: 525-535.

Balkowiec A, Katz DM. (2002) Cellular mechanisms regulating activity-dependent release of native brain-derived neurotrophic factor from hippocampal neurons. J Neurosci. 22: 10399-10407.

Brenowitz EA. (2013) Testosterone and brain-derived neurotrophic factor interactions in the avian song control system. Neuroscience 239: 115-123.

Coco M, Caggia S, Musumeci G, Perciavalle V, Graziano AC, Pannuzzo G, Cardile V. (2013) Sodium L-lactate differently affects brain-derived neurothrophic factor, inducible nitric oxide synthase, and heat shock protein 70 kDa production in human astrocytes and SH-SY5Y cultures.J Neurosci Res. 91: 313-320.

Cohen-Cory S, Kidane AH, Shirkey NJ, Marshak S. (2010) Brain-derived neurotrophic factor and the development of structural neuronal connectivity. Dev Neurobiol. 70: 271-288.

D'Angelo L, De Girolamo P, Lucini C, Terzibasi ET, Baumgart M, Castaldo L, Cellerino A (2014). Brain-derived neurotrophic factor: mRNA expression and protein distribution in the brain of the teleost Nothobranchius furzeri. J Comp Neurol. 1;522(5):1004-30.

Dubreuil CI, Winton MJ, McKerracher L. (2003) Rho activation patterns after spinal cord injury and the role of activated Rho in apoptosis in the central nervous system. J Cell Biol. 162: 233-243.

Elfving B, Plougmann PH, Wegener G. (2010) Detection of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in rat blood and brain preparations using ELISA: pitfalls and solutions. J Neurosci Methods 187: 73-77.

Endo T. (2005) Glycans and glycan-binding proteins in brain: galectin-1-induced expression of neurotrophic factors in astrocytes. Curr Drug Targets. 6:427-436.

Head BP, Patel HH, Niesman IR, Drummond JC, Roth DM, Patel PM. (2009) Inhibition of p75 neurotrophin receptor attenuates isoflurane-mediated neuronal apoptosis in the neonatal central nervous system. Anesthesiology 110: 813-825.

Heinrich G, Pagtakhan CJ. (2004) Both 5' and 3' flanks regulate Zebrafish brain-derived neurotrophic factor gene expression. BMC Neurosci. 5: 19.

Klein AB, Williamson R, Santini MA, Clemmensen C, Ettrup A, Rios M, Knudsen GM, Aznar S. (2011) Blood BDNF concentrations reflect brain-tissue BDNF levels across species. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 14: 347-353.

Lessmann V, Gottmann K, Malcangio M. (2003) Neurotrophin secretion: current facts and future prospects. Prog Neurobiol. 69: 341-374.

Lu B, Pang PT, Woo NH. (2005) The yin and yang of neurotrophin action. Nat Rev Neurosci. 6: 603-614.

Marshak S, Nikolakopoulou AM, Dirks R, Martens GJ, Cohen-Cory S (2007)Cell-autonomous TrkB signaling in presynaptic retinal ganglion cells mediates axon arbor growth and synapse maturation during the establishment of retinotectal synaptic connectivity. J Neurosci 27:2444 –2456.

Nelson TJ, Alkon DL. (2014) Molecular regulation of synaptogenesis during associative learning and memory. Brain Res. pii: S0006-8993(14)01660-6. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2014.11.054.

Pang PT, Teng HK, Zaitsev E, Woo NT, Sakata K, Zhen S, Teng KK, Yung WH, Hempstead BL, Lu B. (2004) Cleavage of proBDNF by tPA/plasmin is essential for long-term hippocampal plasticity. Science. 306: 487-491.

Pruunsild P, Kazantseva A, Aid T, Palm K, Timmusk T. (2007) Dissecting the human BDNF locus: bidirectional transcription, complex splicing, and multiple promoters. Genomics. 90: 397-406.

Sanchez AL, Matthews BJ, Meynard MM, Hu B, Javed S, Cohen Cory S (2006) BDNF increases synapse density in dendrites of developing tectal neurons in vivo. Development 133:2477–2486.

Soule´ J, Messaoudi E, Bramham CR. (2006) Brain-derived neurotrophic factor and control of synaptic consolidation in the adult brain. Biochem Soc Trans. 34 :600-604.

Trajkovska V, Marcussen AB, Vinberg M, Hartvig P, Aznar S, Knudsen GM. (2007) Measurements of brain-derived neurotrophic factor: methodological aspects and demographical data. Brain Res Bull. 73: 143-149.

Waterhouse EG, Xu B. (2009) New insights into the role of brain-derived neurotrophic factor in synaptic plasticity. Mol Cell Neurosci. 42: 81-89.

Wessels JM, Wu L, Leyland NA, Wang H, Foster WG. (2014) The Brain-Uterus Connection: Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) and Its Receptor (Ntrk2) Are Conserved in the Mammalian Uterus. PLoS ONE 9: e94036.

Yamauchi J, Chan JR, Shooter EM. (2004) Neurotrophins regulate Schwann cell migration by activating divergent signaling pathways dependent on Rho GTPases. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 101: 8774-8779.

Zhang J, Sokal I, Peskind ER, Quinn JF, Jankovic J, Kenney C, Chung KA, Millard SP, Nutt JG, Montine TJ. (2008) CSF multianalyte profile distinguishes Alzheimer and Parkinson diseases. Am J Clin Pathol. 129: 526-529.