To the extent possible under law, AOP-Wiki has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to KER:1507

Relationship: 1507


The title of the KER should clearly define the two KEs being considered and the sequential relationship between them (i.e., which is upstream and which is downstream). Consequently all KER titles take the form “upstream KE leads to downstream KE”.  More help

BDNF, Reduced leads to Impairment, Learning and memory

Upstream event
Upstream event in the Key Event Relationship. On the KER page, clicking on the Event name under Upstream Relationship will bring the user to that individual KE page. More help
Downstream event
Downstream event in the Key Event Relationship. On the KER page, clicking on the Event name under Upstream Relationship will bring the user to that individual KE page. More help

Key Event Relationship Overview

The utility of AOPs for regulatory application is defined, to a large extent, by the confidence and precision with which they facilitate extrapolation of data measured at low levels of biological organisation to predicted outcomes at higher levels of organisation and the extent to which they can link biological effect measurements to their specific causes. Within the AOP framework, the predictive relationships that facilitate extrapolation are represented by the KERs. Consequently, the overall WoE for an AOP is a reflection in part, of the level of confidence in the underlying series of KERs it encompasses. Therefore, describing the KERs in an AOP involves assembling and organising the types of information and evidence that defines the scientific basis for inferring the probable change in, or state of, a downstream KE from the known or measured state of an upstream KE. More help

AOPs Referencing Relationship

This table is automatically generated upon addition of a KER to an AOP. All of the AOPs that are linked to this KER will automatically be listed in this subsection. Clicking on the name of the AOP in the table will bring you to the individual page for that AOP. More help
AOP Name Adjacency Weight of Evidence Quantitative Understanding Point of Contact Author Status OECD Status
Inhibition of Na+/I- symporter (NIS) leads to learning and memory impairment non-adjacent Moderate Moderate Anna Price (send email) Open for citation & comment TFHA/WNT Endorsed

Taxonomic Applicability

Select one or more structured terms that help to define the biological applicability domain of the KER. In general, this will be dictated by the more restrictive of the two KEs being linked together by the KER. Authors can indicate the relevant taxa for this KER in this subsection. The process is similar to what is described for KEs (see pages 30-31 and 37-38 of User Handbook) More help
Term Scientific Term Evidence Link
rat Rattus norvegicus Moderate NCBI
mouse Mus musculus Moderate NCBI

Sex Applicability

Authors can indicate the relevant sex for this KER in this subsection. The process is similar to what is described for KEs (see pages 31-32 of the User Handbook). More help
Sex Evidence
Unspecific Moderate

Life Stage Applicability

Authors can indicate the relevant life stage for this KER in this subsection. The process is similar to what is described for KEs (see pages 31-32 of User Handbook). More help
Term Evidence
During brain development Moderate

Key Event Relationship Description

Provide a brief, descriptive summation of the KER. While the title itself is fairly descriptive, this section can provide details that aren’t inherent in the description of the KEs themselves (see page 39 of the User Handbook). This description section can be viewed as providing the increased specificity in the nature of upstream perturbation (KEupstream) that leads to a particular downstream perturbation (KEdownstream), while allowing the KE descriptions to remain generalised so they can be linked to different AOPs. The description is also intended to provide a concise overview for readers who may want a brief summation, without needing to read through the detailed support for the relationship (covered below). Careful attention should be taken to avoid reference to other KEs that are not part of this KER, other KERs or other AOPs. This will ensure that the KER is modular and can be used by other AOPs. More help

BDNF and its high-affinity receptor TrkB are widely expressed in the mammalian brain (Lewin and Barde, 1996). They play a crucial role in the development, maintenance and functioning of the CNS (Huang and Reichardt, 2003; Shafiee et al., 2016). BDNF is known to be directly regulated by thyroid hormones and plays essential roles during the critical period of fetal brain development (Wang et al., 2006), including cell proliferation, migration, differentiation, synaptogenesis and neuronal network formation. In addition, neuronal activity regulates BDNF transcription, transport of BDNF mRNA and protein into dendrites and the activity-dependent secretion of BDNF, which, in turn, modulate synaptic plasticity, synaptogenesis and memory formation (Bekinschtein et al., 2008).

Developmental thyroid hormone insufficiency is associated with reduced cognitive functions and lowered BDNF levels, as shown in both humans and animal models (Chakraborty et al., 2012). For instance, in rats, maternal thyroidectomy significantly reduces BDNF expression in the brain of developing pups (Liu et al., 2010), leading to learning and memory deficits. Prenatal exposure to PTU also leads to reduced hippocampal BDNF in neonatal rats (Chakraborty et al., 2012). This evidence supports the link between decrease of BDNF and learning and memory impairment described in this indirect KER.

Evidence Supporting this KER

Assembly and description of the scientific evidence supporting KERs in an AOP is an important step in the AOP development process that sets the stage for overall assessment of the AOP (see pages 49-56 of the User Handbook). To do this, biological plausibility, empirical support, and the current quantitative understanding of the KER are evaluated with regard to the predictive relationships/associations between defined pairs of KEs as a basis for considering WoE (page 55 of User Handbook). In addition, uncertainties and inconsistencies are considered. More help
Biological Plausibility
Define, in free text, the biological rationale for a connection between KEupstream and KEdownstream. What are the structural or functional relationships between the KEs? For example, there is a functional relationship between an enzyme’s activity and the product of a reaction it catalyses. Supporting references should be included. However, it is recognised that there may be cases where the biological relationship between two KEs is very well established, to the extent that it is widely accepted and consistently supported by so much literature that it is unnecessary and impractical to cite the relevant primary literature. Citation of review articles or other secondary sources, like text books, may be reasonable in such cases. The primary intent is to provide scientifically credible support for the structural and/or functional relationship between the pair of KEs if one is known. The description of biological plausibility can also incorporate additional mechanistic details that help inform the relationship between KEs, this is useful when it is not practical/pragmatic to represent these details as separate KEs due to the difficulty or relative infrequency with which it is likely to be measured (see page 40 of the User Handbook for further information).   More help

The BDNF gene is a key signal transduction element required for synaptic plasticity and many forms of associative learning (Lu et al., 2005; Park et al., 2013). Moreover, reduced function of BDNF leads to neurodevelopmental and learning disorders (Bienvenu et al., 2006). BDNF plays an important role in axonal and dendritic differentiation during embryonic stages of neuronal development, as well as in the formation and maturation of dendritic spines during postnatal development (Chapleau et al., 2009). Recent studies have also implicated vesicular trafficking of BDNF via secretory vesicles, and both secretory and endosomal trafficking of vesicles containing synaptic proteins, such as neurotransmitter and neurotrophin receptors, in the regulation of axonal and dendritic differentiation, and in dendritic spine morphogenesis. Abnormalities in dendritic and synaptic structure are consistently observed in human neurodevelopmental disorders associated with mental retardation, as well as in mouse models of these disorders (Chapleau et al., 2009).

BDNF protein is synthesized as a precursor (pre-proBDNF), resulting after cleavage in a 32-kDa proBDNF protein. ProBDNF is either proteolytically cleaved intracellularly by enzymes like furin or pro-convertases and secreted as the 14 kDa mature BDNF (mBDNF), or secreted as proBDNF and then cleaved by extracellular proteases, such as metalloproteinases and plasmin, to mBDNF (see Lessmann et al., 2003). Both proBDNF and mBDNF are preferentially sorted and packaged into vesicles of the activity-regulated secretory pathway. ProBDNF is not an inactive precursor of BDNF; it is released in the immature and mature CNS in an activity dependent manner (for a comprehensive review on the role of BDNF in learning and memory, see Cunha et al. 2010). The intracellular localization of BDNF is predominantly somatodendritic, but it is also enriched in the dendrites. BDNF can activate several signalling pathways (e.g., ERK (Orban et al., 1999; Sweatt, 2004; Thomas and Huganir, 2004), PI3K–Akt (Lin et al., 2001), CREB (Barco et al., 2003)) that may regulate downstream cellular effects necessary for synaptic plasticity and memory formation. The role of BDNF in synaptogenesis and neuronal network functions, which represent the KEs before the AO (decrease of learning and memory), was already described in other three AOPs (i.e., 13, 48 and 12) already endorsed by OECD.

Importantly, reduced levels of BDNF have been reported as a consequence of decreased TH levels, playing a crucial role in neuroplasticity, one of the fundamental processes in learning and memory (Chakraborty et al., 2012; Gilbert and Lasley, 2013). In line with this, BDNF-mediated stimulation of both hippocampal neurogenesis and inhibition of hippocampal apoptosis can recover spatial memory deficits triggered by developmental hypothyroidism in rats (Shafiee et al., 2016; Shin et al., 2013).

Uncertainties and Inconsistencies
In addition to outlining the evidence supporting a particular linkage, it is also important to identify inconsistencies or uncertainties in the relationship. Additionally, while there are expected patterns of concordance that support a causal linkage between the KEs in the pair, it is also helpful to identify experimental details that may explain apparent deviations from the expected patterns of concordance. Identification of uncertainties and inconsistencies contribute to evaluation of the overall WoE supporting the AOPs that contain a given KER and to the identification of research gaps that warrant investigation (seep pages 41-42 of the User Handbook).Given that AOPs are intended to support regulatory applications, AOP developers should focus on those inconsistencies or gaps that would have a direct bearing or impact on the confidence in the KER and its use as a basis for inference or extrapolation in a regulatory setting. Uncertainties that may be of academic interest but would have little impact on regulatory application don’t need to be described. In general, this section details evidence that may raise questions regarding the overall validity and predictive utility of the KER (including consideration of both biological plausibility and empirical support). It also contributes along with several other elements to the overall evaluation of the WoE for the KER (see Section 4 of the User Handbook).  More help

There are no inconsistencies in this KER; however, alterations of BDNF signalling is reliably not the only mechanism leading to impaired learning and memory. Additional studies are required to better correlate BDNF levels, TH brain levels with learning and memory tests performed simultaneously.

Response-response Relationship
This subsection should be used to define sources of data that define the response-response relationships between the KEs. In particular, information regarding the general form of the relationship (e.g., linear, exponential, sigmoidal, threshold, etc.) should be captured if possible. If there are specific mathematical functions or computational models relevant to the KER in question that have been defined, those should also be cited and/or described where possible, along with information concerning the approximate range of certainty with which the state of the KEdownstream can be predicted based on the measured state of the KEupstream (i.e., can it be predicted within a factor of two, or within three orders of magnitude?). For example, a regression equation may reasonably describe the response-response relationship between the two KERs, but that relationship may have only been validated/tested in a single species under steady state exposure conditions. Those types of details would be useful to capture.  More help
This sub-section should be used to provide information regarding the approximate time-scale of the changes in KEdownstream relative to changes in KEupstream (i.e., do effects on KEdownstream lag those on KEupstream by seconds, minutes, hours, or days?). This can be useful information both in terms of modelling the KER, as well as for analyzing the critical or dominant paths through an AOP network (e.g., identification of an AO that could kill an organism in a matter of hours will generally be of higher priority than other potential AOs that take weeks or months to develop). Identification of time-scale can also aid the assessment of temporal concordance. For example, for a KER that operates on a time-scale of days, measurement of both KEs after just hours of exposure in a short-term experiment could lead to incorrect conclusions regarding dose-response or temporal concordance if the time-scale of the upstream to downstream transition was not considered. More help
Known modulating factors
This sub-section presents information regarding modulating factors/variables known to alter the shape of the response-response function that describes the quantitative relationship between the two KEs (for example, an iodine deficient diet causes a significant increase in the slope of the relationship; a particular genotype doubles the sensitivity of KEdownstream to changes in KEupstream). Information on these known modulating factors should be listed in this subsection, along with relevant information regarding the manner in which the modulating factor can be expected to alter the relationship (if known). Note, this section should focus on those modulating factors for which solid evidence supported by relevant data and literature is available. It should NOT list all possible/plausible modulating factors. In this regard, it is useful to bear in mind that many risk assessments conducted through conventional apical guideline testing-based approaches generally consider few if any modulating factors. More help
Known Feedforward/Feedback loops influencing this KER
This subsection should define whether there are known positive or negative feedback mechanisms involved and what is understood about their time-course and homeostatic limits? In some cases where feedback processes are measurable and causally linked to the outcome, they should be represented as KEs. However, in most cases these features are expected to predominantly influence the shape of the response-response, time-course, behaviours between selected KEs. For example, if a feedback loop acts as compensatory mechanism that aims to restore homeostasis following initial perturbation of a KE, the feedback loop will directly shape the response-response relationship between the KERs. Given interest in formally identifying these positive or negative feedback, it is recommended that a graphical annotation (page 44) indicating a positive or negative feedback loop is involved in a particular upstream to downstream KE transition (KER) be added to the graphical representation, and that details be provided in this subsection of the KER description (see pages 44-45 of the User Handbook).  More help

Domain of Applicability

As for the KEs, there is also a free-text section of the KER description that the developer can use to explain his/her rationale for the structured terms selected with regard to taxonomic, life stage, or sex applicability, or provide a more generalizable or nuanced description of the applicability domain than may be feasible using standardized terms. More help

Empirical evidence comes from in vivo studies with rodents.


List of the literature that was cited for this KER description using the appropriate format. Ideally, the list of references should conform, to the extent possible, with the OECD Style Guide (OECD, 2015). More help

Alonso M, Vianna MR, Depino AM, Mello e Souza T, Pereira P, Szapiro G, Viola H, Pitossi F, Izquierdo I, Medina JH (2002). BDNF-triggered events in the rat hippocampus are required for both short- and long-term memory formation. Hippocampus. 12(4):551-60.

Barco A, Pittenger C, Kandel ER (2003). CREB, memory enhancement and the treatment of memory disorders: promises, pitfalls and prospects. Expert Opin Ther Targets. Feb; 7(1):101-14.

Bekinschtein P, Cammarota M, Katche C, Slipczuk L, Rossato JI, Goldin A, Izquierdo I, Medina JH (2008). BDNF is essential to promote persistence of long-term memory storage. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Feb 19;105(7):2711-6.

Bienvenu T, Chelly J. (2006). Molecular genetics of Rett syndrome: When DNA methylation goes unrecognized. Nat. Rev. Genet; 7:415–426.

Blanco J, Mulero M, Heredia L, Pujol A, Domingo JL, Sánchez DJ (2013). Perinatal exposure to BDE-99 causes learning disorders and decreases serum thyroid hormone levels and BDNF gene expression in hippocampus in rat offspring. Toxicology. Jun 7;308:122-8.

Chakraborty G, Magagna-Poveda A, Parratt C, Umans JG, MacLusky NJ, Scharfman HE. (2012). Reduced hippocampal brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in neonatal rats after prenatal exposure to propylthiouracil (PTU). Endocrinology 153:1311–1316.

Chapleau CA, Larimore JL, Theibert A, Pozzo-Miller L. (2009). Modulation of dendritic spine development and plasticity by BDNF and vesicular trafficking: fundamental roles in neurodevelopmental disorders associated with mental retardation and autism. J Neurodev Disord;1:185–196.

Cunha C, Brambilla R, Thomas KL (2010). A simple role for BDNF in learning and memory? Front Mol Neurosci. Feb 9;3:1.

Gilbert ME. (2011). Impact of low-level thyroid hormone disruption induced by propylthiouracil on brain development and function. Toxicol Sci 124:432-445.

Gilbert ME, Lasley SM (2013). Developmental thyroid hormone insufficiency and brain development: a role for brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)? Neuroscience, 239, pp. 253-270.

Gilbert ME, Sanchez-Huerta K, Wood C. (2016). Mild Thyroid Hormone Insufficiency During Development Compromises Activity-Dependent Neuroplasticity in the Hippocampus of Adult Male Rats. Endocrinology 157:774-787.

Gilbert ME, Sui L. (2006). Dose-dependent reductions in spatial learning and synaptic function in the dentate gyrus of adult rats following developmental thyroid hormone insufficiency. Brain Res 1069:10-22.

Huang EJ, Reichardt LF. (2003). Trk receptors: roles in neuronal signal transduction. Annu Rev Biochem, 72, pp. 609–642.

Jang YJ, Park HR, Kim TH, Yang WJ, Lee JJ, Choi SY, Oh SB, Lee E, Park JH, Kim HP, Kim HS, Lee J. (2012). High dose bisphenol A impairs hippocampal neurogenesis in female mice across generations. Toxicology. Jun 14;296(1-3):73-82.

Lessmann V, Gottmann K, Malcangio M (2003). Neurotrophin secretion: current facts and future prospects. Prog Neurobiol. Apr; 69(5):341-74.

Lewin GR, Barde YA. (1996) Physiology of the neurotrophins. Annu Rev Neurosci, 19, pp. 289–317.

Lin CH, Yeh SH, Lin CH, Lu KT, Leu TH, Chang WC, Gean PW (2001). A role for the PI-3 kinase signaling pathway in fear conditioning and synaptic plasticity in the amygdala. Neuron. Sep 13; 31(5):841-51.

Liu D, Teng W, Shan Z, Yu X, Gao Y, Wang S, Fan C, Wang H, Zhang H. (2010). The effect of maternal subclinical hypothyroidism during pregnancy on brain development in rat offspring. Thyroid 20:909–915.

Lu B, Pang TP, Woo NH (2005). The Yin and Yang of neurotrophin action. Nat. Rev. Neurosci. 2005;6:603–614.

Orban PC, Chapman PF, Brambilla R (1999). Is the Ras-MAPK signalling pathway necessary for long-term memory formation? Trends Neurosci. Jan; 22(1):38-44.

Park H, Poo MM. Neurotrophin regulation of neural circuit development and function. (2013). Nat. Rev. Neurosci;14:7–23.

Shafiee SM, Vafaei AA, Rashidy-Pour A. (2016). Effects of maternal hypothyroidism during pregnancy on learning, memory and hippocampal BDNF in rat pups: Beneficial effects of exercise. Neuroscience. Aug 4;329:151-61.

Shin MS, Ko IG, Kim SE, Kim BK, Kim TS, Lee SH, Hwang DS, Kim CJ, Park JK, Lim BV (2013). Treadmill exercise ameliorates symptoms of methimazole-induced hypothyroidism through enhancing neurogenesis and suppressing apoptosis in the hippocampus of rat pups. Int J Dev Neurosci. May;31(3):214-23.

Sweatt JD (2004). Mitogen-activated protein kinases in synaptic plasticity and memory. Curr Opin Neurobiol. Jun; 14(3):311-7.

Thomas GM, Huganir RL (2004). MAPK cascade signalling and synaptic plasticity. Nat Rev Neurosci. Mar; 5(3):173-83.

Wang Y, Su B, Xia Z. (2006). Brain-derived neurotrophic factor activates ERK5 in cortical neurons via a Rap1-MEKK2 signaling cascade. J Biol Chem, 281, pp. 35965–35974.

Wang S, Teng W, Gao Y, Fan C, Zhang H, Shan Z. (2012). Early levothyroxine treatment on maternal subclinical hypothyroidism improves spatial learning of offspring in rats. J Neuroendocrinol 24:841–848.

Wang C, Li Z, Han H, Luo G, Zhou B, Wang S, Wang J. (2016). Impairment of object recognition memory by maternal bisphenol A exposure is associated with inhibition of Akt and ERK/CREB/BDNF pathway in the male offspring hippocampus. Toxicology. Feb 3;341-343:56-64.